|Posted on July 21, 2019 at 6:15 AM|
Saturday July 13, 2019 7:20am
My childhood best friend had a middle school teacher who allowed his students to use curse words in class if they looked up the dictionary definitions first. I wonder if cultural literacy can be used similarly to prevent or transform appropriation, drag it back over the boundaries of offensive into the territory of appreciation. For example, is it okay for a non-Indian person like myself to practice yoga if I research the origins of the yoga I practice (and resist the consumerism of lululemon)? Would it be okay for a non-Buddhist person to have statues of buddhas in their home if they knew the name and origin of each effigy? It's the Buddha heads that are chopped off their originals that are most offensive to me; I've seen temples in China with headless gods and goddesses, and those memories jolt me when I see people with Buddha head effigies in their home intended to evoke peace, even when they are replicas. Is it enough to question people who are selling pieces of their culture about the origins of the trinkets and garments I purchase from them? If I know what it is and where it came from, does that make it less offensive if I wear or use it?
I believe if significant, continued effort is put toward cultural literacy, and if the acquisition of cultural literacy is done with cultural humility and not fetishization, then the commodification of culture can be elevated from appropriation to appreciation.
Because if someone asks about the beads you are wearing, you can become a cultural ambassador and tell them all about the culture it came from. This only works if you have enough depth of knowledge not to sound like a tourist.
Thursday July 18, 2019 11:07am
I am disturbed, not for the first time, by how my students seem to be dividing themselves along the gender binary on the topic of cultural appropriation. Thus far all the men have written generalized essays reflecting (and critiquing) the reading assignment, while only women actually gave real life examples of how they have witnessed or experienced cultural appropriation. While I'm fairly lax with the class about the specifics of each assignment so long as they participate to the full extent of their abilities, and I am aware of how delicate this topic is, I want people to think of real examples, from their personal experiences. How do I ask for that without losing the guys completely? They don't seem to understand the impact of their generalizations.
Friday, July 19, 2019 7:34am
Just because I didn't mean to doesn't mean the impact didn't happen. The example I gave in class stands, despite all excuses and absolving comments: I participated in the disenfranchisement of a woman I respect and admire, by taking over the last two clinic shifts that tied her to this school. Agh! And I was so proud when I was hired here, to think that I would be working alongside her. Secretly hoping that I would learn more from her just by osmosis, by being in proximity to her as a supervisor, because she never supervised (or taught herbs) at my school.
The fact that she was ready to leave is no excuse. I know better than anyone, having actually been in her class (yelled at memorably on the day we met, for tardiness: "We don't have enough time together as it is!"...I was never late again for her class) how passionate she is about teaching, about giving us solid clinical content that we can take into the field with us and do some good with. It's hard to imagine how much oppression had to be piled on her, how many classes taken from her and given to white teachers, how many covert and overt insults would have to come from her colleagues, her students, the deans, before she would give up.
In some ways I AM the ideal token Chinese professor, because (like Obama) I am American as well as Chinese (or black), and more able to codeswitch into whitespace. Grr.
7:47am This is why it's important to purchase herbs from the Chinese vendors in Chinatown and Wan Fung Herbs in Albany, and not online from sites like Amazon. I need to stop taking the living from my own people and paying white people instead.
Sunday, July 21, 2019 6:10am
I am privileged to have my racial, ethnic, cultural background aligned with my first language and my profession of choice. It's like being cisgendered; the body I was born into happens to be of the gender I identify. I am lucky that my body and blood are aligned with my life and loves. For those who resonate strongly with Eastern Medicine but have no lineage relating to it, and who may be perceived as appropriating, I wonder if some of their experiences are dysphoric. If trans folk have gender dysphoria, can my students have cultural dysphoria? It's very painful to watch. Even more confusing to experience, I imagine. However, power and privilege do not evaporate simply because you are trying to align your being with your heart's desire. History continues to impact the present, and needs to be acknowledged and handled with care, not wishfully disregarded and then repeated in ever more subtle ways.