A Burner recently posted on Facebook that she had lost her segue during Burning Man 2014. Her request for assistance was rapidly subjugated to a heated name-calling fest that resulted in the post being deleted. Because her photo showed her wearing a headdress, the woman was called a douche, and she was accused of cultural appropriation. As the thread devolved, the people posting called one another ignorant, clueless, assholes, idiots, haters & uppity bitches. It culminated in this vulgar comment:
“I do believe this is a joke and if it is not…I buried it out by the trash fence after I stole your hooker and corn holed her at the clown tent. Thanks for the great ride.”
As the sputum flew, I took a screen shot of the post, thinking I’d like to write about it. I have altered the photo to protect the woman’s identity.
The Burning Man Principle of Radical Self-Expression states:
“Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual.
No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content.”
This ideal was being skewed by the proposition of politically-correct self-expression.
This led me to thinking about this term–cultural appropriation, so I dissected it: Culture is an expression of society– those of us living together. In the big picture, we all live together on the earth. We have artistic, cultural, religious expression that we share. In sharing, we stimulate emulation. We borrow from one another to create our own expression of self.
What is evident? We are all one earth tribe, becoming more so with each passing decade. We all share our cultural richness. Owning culture is a concept that promotes separation and leverages cultural art and its impact. How can you own cultural expression? Build a fence around it? Tell those who see it to unsee it? The world is becoming more and more homogenized as we evolve toward oneness. The examples of blending culture are everywhere. A prime example:
- Yoga is practiced by people of many colors and cultures all over the world. Many wear the saffron colored dhoti of the Sadhu, wrap their heads in turban cloth and take Sanskrit names to indicate their commitment to spiritual life.
Sacred symbols, once belonging only to a specific culture, are now enjoyed by millions as a part of how they express themselves. It could be on a t-shirt, a pair of earrings, a tattoo, or a piece of art on the wall.
The cross has many representations throughout history; the swastika has roots in India before it became the malevolent symbol of the Third Reich; The Skih Adi Shakti symbol bears a close resemblance to the emblem of Iran. Shall we all cry cultural appropriation at these similarities? The symbols that run deep in our collective consciousness emerge in a multitude of expressions. In contemporary culture they are shared, worn, tattooed, sung and worshipped as a part of one’s personal expression.
John McWhorter wrote about this in his article, You Can’t Steal a Culture: In Defense of Cultural Appropriation:
“It used to be that we said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But now there is new way to see the matter: Imitation is a kind of dismissal.
But does this idea hold up? I doubt it. If one is seen, and seen in an approving light, one will be imitated. This is what human beings do.”
The headdress, in particular, riles many as an insult to Native Americans. As I read about the umbrage taken, the indignation took on a palpable self-righteous tone. Against the backdrop of history, the wounds of the past get hurled forward. The wounds seem as raw as ever, as if no healing has taken place. This wounded stance seems to give unlimited rights to hate white people. White people who did not commit the atrocities of the past. This wounded stance, dare I say, promulgates a victimhood mentality that the perpetrators and their progeny are never free of.
In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz states agreement #2:
Don’t take anything personally.
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Taking things personally is an epidemic in America. The politically correct way of saying things is a semantic contrivance aimed at hurting no one’s feelings. But wait, each person is solely responsible for the way they feel. No one can make you feel anything. If you choose to get offended that is your choice. No one can make you feel marginalized, you have to be fostering that inner climate to get that result. No one can offend your spirituality, why are you looking for offensive evidence? What do you get out of your feelings of being offended? Oh, you get to be indignant, you get to be angry, you get to hate white people? How does that foster a global community?
Here are some examples of beautiful headdresses that artists create. People have been wearing head pieces since time began. While Native American’s do have special privileges to purchase protected species feathers at a feather bank, Native American’s do not own feathers any more than the gay community owns rainbows. This climate of upset, anger and indignation only furthers division. We are humankind. We are, whether we like it or not, one tribe. Wearing any of these headdresses for artistic purposes, because they are beautiful, because they make us feel more majestic, or because we imagine they help us access our inner warrior spirit are all some possible motivations. To assume one would wear them to pretend to be an actual War Chief, or pretend to have accomplished the tasks originally intended is preposterous.
These headdresses (below) are made by indigenous artists in Bali. Their website states:
Novum Crafts is based in the heart of Bali and is made up of a group of the most talented local artists. Why Indian Headresses and Animal Skull Carvings? First of all, who doesn’t admire native American headdresses? A lot of the indigenous artists here loved the native American culture and started creating a lot of the crafts that it symbolized such as dream-catchers, turquoise jewelry, and the infamous Indian Headdress.
I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Native American artists create and sell their culture prolifically. You can buy most any part of the culture. Peace pipes, medicine bags, dream catchers, you name it. The same is true online. I found countless sites operated by Native American artists selling authentic cultural items like this one:
Since the Native American culture itself sells it, why get enraged at people who buy it and utilize it? Artists get to employ their craft and get paid for it, while those purchasing get to appreciate a rich part of the beauty of Native culture.
How do we make peace with the past? We are all borrowing from one another, could that be cause to celebrate and enjoy our common ground?