Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cultural appropriation vis-a-vis globalization

As I edit these shorts, a topic recurs as it does whenever I encounter Asian or folk influence in contemporary music performance. I've encountered views on the topic with a range of tone (here's an irritating one), but none yet that attempts to address the complex experience of 2nd- plus-generation immigrants coming of age in white Eurocentric culture. Try this:
  1. Am I assimilated because I've accessed white privileged education, move in white queer or liberal circles, and know relatively little about my culture of origin?
  2. If I'm assimilated, is my interest in minority cultures and use of artifacts (including artistic) from these cultures appropriative exactly as if I were white?
  3. Is the only way for me to escape the white man's path, to be more Chinesey by investing more of myself in my culture of origin, whatever that is and regardless of the reasons my family chose to leave it?
There's a narrative that I need to investigate. In a globalized world, I can't believe I'm alone on this! As I touched on in my previous post I filled a spiritual void in childhood from whatever I could get my hands on. Coming into awareness that there is a tremendous complexity and history behind each culture I encounter was a difficult step for me. I don't dispute that we owe other cultures deeper respect and serious and cautious study. What irks me right now is the alienating, silencing effect when one who is genuinely interested in a non-origin culture hears his expression is appropriative.

Serious questions:

Can a musician incorporate elements of culture of non-origin music into her work without knowledge of the cultural significance of this sort of music and without being appropriative? Can one who studies a non-origin culture extensively and still be appropriative?

Lest I be blamed for leaving it out on this post, I'll write it here: Orientalism. Now, your turn to sound off.

Btw #3 is a ridiculous suggestion because it is both impossible and uninteresting. Having had the Western, stereotype-focused anti-oppression education that I have makes it impossible for me to retrace my parents' values to 1980s China and somehow claim them. What would be interesting is to see how my generation of organizers all over the world, including in the mainland, conceptualize oppression.

1 comment:

  1. This question is outside of my area of expertise and comfort zone, but I do have a few thoughts. I think that there are really two interwoven issues here. The very real ethical and personal question of cultural place and appropriation, and the perception of others in your field.

    For instance, you may in time come to decide that the answer to #2 for you is "yes." However, because of your ethnic heritage, other people may not perceive appropriation in your use of certain cultural markers in your work. Moreover, a deliberate rejection of those markers could also be interpreted in ways that you might not anticipate or desire.

    Perhaps it would be valuable to try to examine separately your own feelings around appropriation from appropriation in the context of your public persona and work.