Who Owns Culture?

culture

Culture is something that has always fascinated me. And culture is also something that has always (to a degree) annoyed me.
Culture is something that touches pretty much everyone (short of those that live completely isolated somewhere, far from other humans or civilization). Differing cultures exist in pretty much any group setting, from the micro (such as in a household or a workplace) to the macro (such as a whole nation, or the interconnected world as a whole). While some cultural tenants are shared from the highest macro levels right to the lowest micro levels, there is a huge amount of diversity in between. For example, though most “free” nations operate with more or less the same constitutional template governing rights granted to their respective populations, each of these nations has a slightly different approach to law and order then all the others. And the same goes as you go down the line within those macro-cultures. Provinces / States / Territories  self regulate differently within the macro framework. And Cities / Towns / Counties / Municipalities / Parishes (Louisiana & Some of Europe) self regulate further within the frame work. As do the schools, workplaces, homes and other micro-cultures therein.

The same goes for popular culture.

There are some forms of culture that become universally embraced by many nations and groups world wide. But every nation also has its own internal preferences pertaining to what is popular.

When it comes to Canada, though it is clique, hockey. For the US, football, God and guns come to mind. For many nations of Europe, Football also.

soccar

While everyone is influenced by the cultural makeup of the environment in which they grew up in and live, there are many different degrees of influence. Though I am a biased source when speaking about myself, I like to think that I am minimally influenced by the macro-cultures around me.
One product of the culture in which I live is the language I speak. Another was my Catholic religion (that is, before I lost it). And yet another way in which I was influenced by my external culture was many of my preferences of past years (mainly as a young adult, before breaking away and cutting my own path). One example was a typical clique love of hockey and Tim Horton’s, just because that is what “Canadians” do.
There are likely many other ways in which I was (and still am) influenced by my external cultural environment, but this is all I can come up with right now.

I walked away from many of the “cultural traditions” that I once was apart of for the same reason that many people do. I was not really “religious” or a “hockey fan” because I believed in god with all my heart or was passionate about hockey. I showed interest in those things because that was what Westerners (for the most part) and Canadians do. To be perfectly fair, I was never zealously involved with either practice.  But it was something I felt a need to partake in, even if just to fit in.

Which brings me to one of the downsides of culture.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having various traditions and activities that are unique to a given macro culture (or many macro cultures). Though the “harmless” role of religion could be legitimately debated, having an unofficial national sport or pass time (or coffee chain) is largely harmless. But only to a point.
For example, if the only reason that you are partaking in a given activity is to be like everyone else, is that really a good reason?
It is for some. Which is fine by me. Who am I to judge why people do the things they do?
That is, so long as people like this do not become so ingrained with this cultural mindset that they start to look down on others that differ from it. And so long as they do not become so ingrained in their cultural mindset that they become unintelligent zombies at the hand of marketers and advertisers using their “culture” as a sales tool .

With that all explained, I am going to take this in a very different direction. I will now talk about “Black” (American) culture. Or its exploitation (as some put it).

When it comes to Black culture in America (the culture that is most relevant to those making the claim of exploitation), the first thing that comes to mind today is rap and hip hop. Though similar arguments have likely been made when it comes to genres like Jazz and Blues, hip hop/rap is the most relevant today and as such will be the focus.

There are likely many people that I could list whom have been accused of “exploiting” hip hop / rap (and Black culture period), but the most recent examples I can think of are Iggy Azalea and Rachel Dolezal. Eminem (though not “recent” or “relevant” per say) has also been accused of this, but not as much as the other 2, being his upbringing.

When it comes to Iggy Azalea, I found this “open letter” to her published by the Huffington Post (what is with progressively biased idiots and open letters lately?!). Written by a person of (presumably) black ancestry, it attacks Iggy for basically exploiting all the pain felt by the black community (currently and past) for her own gain and profit. Here are a few exerts from the letter.

Dear Iggy Azalea,

Hey, girl. I’m glad you canceled your tour and are finally getting a break. It sounds like you’re also going to take the time to do some rebranding. That’s a good idea. Something that would also be a good idea is not accessorizing yourself with the black American South.

While you are chillin’ and ordering Papa John’s to a themed pool party with Britney Spears, there are some things you should think about:

1. You are not black.

2. You are not from the American South.

3. You are not a black person from the American South.

The Judge Judy “I am the realest” animation is amusing, given that it does not seem to fit the context, and because I think the author is talking out of her ass.

But since were bending terms to suit our needs anyway, I AM THE REALEST.

Honestly, just repeating those things to yourself might be helpful. The thing is, Iggy, you are actually a white lady from New South Wales. When you say things like “Tell me how you love dat,” you are not being artistic. You are adopting the tonalities of Southern black women and belittling their manner of speaking by totally removing it from its context. “The line is offensive because this Australian born-and-raised white girl almost convincingly mimics the sonic register of a downhome Atlanta girl,” wrote Brittney Cooper for Salon.

This might seem harsh, Iggy. But you are not only disrespecting the culture of the black American South. You are also accessorizing yourself with it for profit. It is wrong (and often racist) to play the part of a marginalized person without having experienced their version of marginalization. You are not entitled to pick and choose certain elements of cultures. You are basically treating black American culture like it is a Claire’s in a local mall, and you are a bored 12-year-old with sticky fingers.

This is hilarious for a few reasons:

1.) Being able to be a part of a COMPLETELY separate cultural dynamic yet still being able to sell yourself convincingly as a totally foreign one (“downhome Atlanta girl”) is offensive?!

Weird Al built his career doing this. And we (well, I) love him for it.

2.) How is Iggy Azalea profiting from “black southern culture” any different from any given black rapper or hip hop artist from the south (or any other underprivileged area of the US!) “profiting” from their background?!
Last I checked, everyone is out to make as much $$ as they can. So even though a few get lucky and make it big, a HUGE majority are still stuck in the same shitty existence that the few manged to escape.

Everyone involved is still in it for the money. Lets be honest!

3.) Utilizing black American culture for profit is NOT theft. And if one is to consider it as such, then that should include EVERYONE who does this (including Black artists).

4.) It is not “racist” to play the part of a marginalized person without having experienced their version of marginalization. What is with these progressive idiots and changing the definitions of existing words?!

Since were AGAIN bending the dictionary to our needs, then it is racist to attack other races for borrowing cultural aspects of ones own race.

I hope you don’t think people have a problem with you just because you’re a white rapper, as you’ll be missing the point. Granted, the black community has rightful ownership of rap and hip hop (along with jazz, blues and soul), because of the origins and social significance of those genres. (While taking your break, you might consider streaming Ice-T’s “Something from Nothing” on Netflix for some background there.)

So only people from the black community have a right to profit from the pain of suffering of their own race? Now thats some forward and progressive thinking!

When you come back to us, however, we suggest you stop antagonizing Azealia Banks and remember that you can be a white person and partake in the art form without appropriating blackness or, more specifically, the black American South.

Best,
Pretty Much Everyone

P.S. If you need to quickly re-familiarize yourself with Australia, you might consider watching the turn-of-the-century classic “Our Lips Are Sealed.”

Fuck you.

I don’t even like Iggy Azalea, but even I get offended by the closing to this letter. As if “pretty much everyone” are a bunch of closed minded assholes that can not see an inch past skin pigmentation. Also, nice attempt at telling Iggy how “familiarize” herself with her own culture.

After all, what do you know about life in New South Wales or Australia? Have you not read a single word that you just typed out and posted for the whole world to read?
And for a thought experiment, if White people were to suddenly lay claim to some universally adopted tradition that had European Caucasian roots, would the same people spewing the shit above not immediately claim racism?
Sure, its not a “correct” usage of the term. But when has THAT stopped these people from using these kind of arguments?

As for Rachel Dolezal, I wrote a piece a couple days ago outlining my belief that the “scandal” is not likely to cause much negativity, being her (seemingly) good natured agenda (despite the crimes). But it seems that many disagree.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_rachel_dolezal_infuriates_us_20150617#14348414000981&action=collapse_widget&id=0&data=

But the main thing I want to get across by writing this is that cultures are not proprietary to their originating race or source. I would have thought this to be apparent (given the diversity of the sources of all of humanities recorded knowledge), but I guess not for this generation.

Imagine a world in which all of the divided segments of humanity only associated with themselves and never outside of their group dynamic, keeping all their knowledge and innovations secret. If that were to have been the reality, I can guarantee that we would not be where we are today (both intellectually and technologically). I can also guarantee that the power of religion on these segments would likely be far stronger then it has been on current and past societies. This is because every existing segment would have to go though the same slow process that all of humanity went though to get to the secular democracies/republics of today. For this reason, there may well been much more violence (given the clashing tendency of the religious).
And speaking of religious clashing, there is nothing to say that one or 2 of the segments may not have ended up wiping out all the others. This is even a threat today, given that some religious enemies are now nuclear armed (for example, Pakistan and India).

For a real life example, take the cancer vaccine out of Cuba. A vaccine that stayed there until very recently due to the American embargo.
Though I admit that I am unsure of the specifics of the vaccine (is it just hype?), its a perfect example of what happens when you segregate knowledge and culture.

Granted, American Southern Black culture is very different form an anti-cancer vaccine. But the Cuban-sourced vaccine is a good example of why humanity should NOT be further segregating.
At best, you have many different people needlessly repeating the same research to have the same negative result. Or at worst, one group benefits while the rest go without.

To close, we live in a more interconnected world then we have ever before. Television and mass communication mediums like the internet have exposed us to many cultural phenomenons (mainly American, but also others to). While it is not exactly dangerous to withhold cultural traits, it is silly to do so in this day and age.

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3 Responses to Who Owns Culture?

  1. Brilliant post! It should be taken as a compliment! We should share culture, not hoard it! That’s three exclamation in a row. Blimey. In a similar vein, another blogger I read, wrote a post today on how people use the term ‘custom’ to behave as badly as they want with no repercussions. ‘Tradition’ fits that bill too.
    What the hell is wrong with everyone!
    There’s another one.
    *smiles*

    – s.u.t.Cloud

    Liked by 1 person

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