Tag Archives: cultural appropriation

Food, authenticity and cultural appropriation

Thanks to Bitch Media for the comic frame.

Shing Yin Khor has a wonderful comic about cultural appropriation and food at Bitch Media.  Five stars.

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Filed under art, colonialism, cultural appropriation, food, representation

Consuming Natives: Kevin Durant Nike edition

I came across this Kevin Durant shoe that seems to scream cultural appropriation to me.

Thanks to the sportingnews.com for the image of Nike Kevin Durant shoe.

The shoe raises money for Nike, Kevin Durant and some Native American athletic programs (I assume in that order).  But the description is a toxic collection of generalizations and stereotypes mashed together.


The bold Nike N7 KD VI features the repeating pattern of arrows that first launched on the Pendleton Woolen Mills Nike N7 blanket last month. The arrow print  symbolizes energy and forward motion and has reflective built in for a surprise effect when worn in the elements.  The bold colors used on the KD VI have significant meaning in Native communities. Turquoise is used often as a color symbolic of friendship, and red is one of four colors—yellow, red, black and white—featured on the traditional Native America medicine wheel, representing movement and the four directions. The KD logo appears on the heel and the N7 logo is on the tongue.

via NIKE, Inc. – Nike N7 and Kevin Durant Collaborate to Support Native American Youth.

That is amazing!  Red is a color significant for Native Americans!  Whoa!  It is good to know where that stuff comes from (sarcasm).   How about vague ambiguity when it comes to so-called native symbols and precise articulation of the Kevin Durant logo?

Nike has also developed a wide shoe, the Air Native N7, for Native North American’s supposedly wider feet (they measured 224 indians feet to justify this claim!)  While criticizing the marketing of this shoe, we can lay some of the News from Indian Country analysis against this Kevin Durant shoe press release.

Some vocal opponents of the Air Native N7 believe the shoe line indeed fosters stereotypes because, along with the company’s trademark swoosh, the footwear features feathers, arrowheads, sunset designs and circle of life motifs. Nike officials have said the product is designed to “deliver sustainable innovation,” and the “N7” portion of its name is meant to encourage “a seventh generation ethos.”

“In my opinion, the whole idea is racist,” says Eugene Johnson, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, who’s paid close attention to the development of the shoe line. “This is a branding scheme of advertising that Nike is known for… I have no doubt that the sales folks are hoping that Indian sympathizers and the general public will be thinking of how Nike is so charitable in thinking of the Indians, thus, increasing sales through the usual brand of Nike branding advertising.”

via Does the Shoe Fit? Native Nike footwear raises concerns – Indian Country News.

I happen to agree that the dual marketing benefit of being seen as charitable  to anonymous poor indians helps to sell the shoe as does the appropriation of cultural symbols.  I think the same might be said about this Kevin Durant shoe.

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Filed under cultural appropriation, fashion, health, Native, race, representation, sport

Otherizing culture through food

Soleil Ho has a nice critique in Bitch Magazine of some trends of cultural simplification and racism in food culture.  I like her salty tone.  She kicks off the discussion with the one directional consumption/service relationship of immigrant cultures reduced to food.  Wondering what to reply when someone mentions to the author ‘Oh you’re Vietnamese, I love pho’:

What can one say in response? “Oh, you’re white? I love tuna salad!” It sounds ridiculous, mostly because no one cares if a second-generation immigrant likes American food. Rather, the burden of fluency with American culture puts a unique pressure on the immigrant kid. I paid attention during playdates with my childhood friends, when parents would serve pulled-pork sandwiches and coleslaw for lunch. (It took me a long time to understand the appeal of mayonnaise, which, as a non-cream, non-cheese, non-sauce, perplexed the hell out of me.) From watching my friends, I learned to put the coleslaw in the sandwich and sop the bread in the stray puddles of sauce in between bites. There’s a similar kind of self-checking that occurs when I take people out to Vietnamese restaurants: Through unsubtle side glances, they watch me for behavioral cues, noting how and if I use various condiments and garnishes so they can report back to their friends and family that they learned how to eat this food the “real way” from their real, live Vietnamese friend. Their desire to be true global citizens, eaters without borders, lies behind their studious gazes.

via Craving the Other | Bitch Media.

Ho seems insulted by the notion that you might be able to get at something essential or authentic in the culture by eating take-out food.  She makes a strong argument here.

Like a plague of culture locusts, foodies, Chowhounders, and food writers flit from bibimbap to roti canai, fetishizing each dish as some adventure-in-a-bowl and using it as a springboard to make gross generalizations about a given culture’s “sense of family and community,” “lack of pretense,” “passion,” and “spirituality.” Eventually, a hole-in-the-wall reaches critical white-Instagrammer mass, and the swarm moves on to its next discovery, decrying the former fixation’s loss of authenticity. The foodies’ cultural cachet depends on being the only white American person in the room, braving inhumane spice levels and possible food poisoning in order to share with you the proper way to handle Ethiopian injera bread. But they can’t cash in on it unless they share their discoveries with someone else, thereby jeopardizing that sense of exclusivity. Thus, happiness tends to elude the cultural foodie.

via Craving the Other | Bitch Media.

She is particularly good at pointing out the harms of reducing a culture to food.

Over time, you grow to associate nationalities with the quaint little restaurants that you used to frequent, before they were demolished and replaced with soulless, Americanized joints. You look at a map of the world and point a finger to Mongolia. “Really good barbecue.” El Salvador. “Mmm, pupusas.” Vietnam. “I love pho!\” When you divorce a food from its place and time, you can ignore global civil unrest and natural disasters (see: Zagat declaring Pinoy cuisine the “next great Asian food trend” this past fall as deadly floods swept through the Philippines), knowing as you do that the world’s cultural products will always find safe harbor in your precious, precious mouth.

via Craving the Other | Bitch Media.

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Brasilintime: culture and syncretism

Hip hop syncretism — the aggressive combinations of sounds and players from many cultures.  Here visible in the nice B+ film — Brasilintime w/ a cadre of great drummers and DJs.   It includes:

–> One of the best examples of cultures appropriating culture ad infinitum when Jay Rocc cuts up “Apache.”

–> The Brazilian parallel with “Comanche!”

–> Not enough Nelson Triunfo.

–> Babu’s scratch session which seems the most inspired and flexible — connected to the music.

–> Paul Humphrey and Ivan “Mamao” Conti seem to jam exceptionally well together.

–> The inspired chaos of the polyrhythms made when six drummers get down and DJs cut on top of each other is a little much at times.  Maybe my ears aren’t big enough . . .

–> The graphics seem excessive in the first half.

–> Hip Hop’s version of the colonial lens includes shopping for rare records in the field.  American learning is commensurate with getting a bargain or getting something that other people can’t as easily get.  In this case we get Paul Humphrey, Derf Reklaw and James Gadson shopping for out-of-the-ordinary percussion instruments and Cut Chemist, Egon, Madlib, Jay Rocc, and Babu shopping for records.

In some ways we can call this syncretism — where distinct cultures inform each other – exchanging language, food and music.  The nod to difference that comes when the American DJs and drummers acknowledge they don’t know something about Brazilian music is matched by the assumption that they can buy and lift chunks of that music for western audiences.

I don’t have any problem with people traveling to other nations — there is something funky about this particular narrative — hunting for nuggets of music seems so crass at points.  Like Egon getting the group price for all the records the crew was buying.

I dislike it when the specifics of the culture blend into the background and I like the moments of the film where the details pop out.  The interviews with Brazilian drummers make this film (despite my linguistic inabilities to get chunks).  I’ll probably mark some cue points in the video and chop it up — take the parts that I like and leave the rest on the digital scrap heap.

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Filed under colonialism, cultural appropriation, funk & soul, hip hop, music

Smart thinking about white indignation and trolling

I’m completely feeling three arguments from Robin James at Cyborgology about the indignation over the Robin Thicke/Miley Cyrus VMA performance.

1. White indignation is a way to self-identify as better-than.

What are we supposed to find likeable in all this? If the aim of the performance is trolling, then we’re not supposed to find it likeable, but irritating and infuriating. I wonder if, in a particularly insidious way, we white people/white feminists are supposed to like what we think is our righteous outrage at the performance? It’s insidious because what is felt (and often intended, at least superficially) as a performance of anti-racist outrage actually further cements our privilege vis-a-vis white supremacist patriarchy? Sharing the pics and gifs of black artists’ reaction shots (the Smith family, Rihanna, Drake), and all the positive feedback we get from this, tells us that we’re “good” white feminists? And this knowledge of our goodness is what we’re liking and aesthetically enjoying? (I’m phrasing these points as questions because they’re genuinely hypotheses–they seem right, but maybe I’m overlooking something?)

via Trolling Is the New Love & Theft » Cyborgology.

No, you are not overlooking something.

2.   James also argues that new media enables sexist and racist communications to be quantified and amplified through critique via social media commentary and thus sanitized.

But today, in what we tell ourselves is a post-feminist, post-racist society, perhaps the way to dis-identify with the neoliberal mainstream is to identify with the objects of its disdain: sexism and racism. As before, the dis-identification with the mainstream is an attempt to prove one’s elite status above that mainstream. This eliteness isn’t conceived or expressed as vanguardism (being ahead of the pack), but as human capital, often quantifiable in/on social media. It’s not who’s most shocking, but who’s trending most on twitter the day after the VMAs, for example. Just think about the way Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” performances constantly throws #THICKE up on some screen.

via Trolling Is the New Love & Theft » Cyborgology.

3.  The best point James makes is framing this kind of cultural appropriation + rape supportive culture + toxic corporate media garbage to be a form of trolling.  Pushing our buttons in order to get more attention.  Now, this is a smart argument — it gives a way to better understand the reasons why Thicke’s rape song and Cyrus’ twerking are bothersome.

I also think it might point to a kind of consumptive desire in the audience not only to distinguish themselves through mockery, but also to desire to view and replay the suffering of the mocked.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, cultural appropriation, feminism, human rights, learning, media, music, race, representation, sexual assault

Harlem responds to the ‘Harlem’ Shake


I had been thinking about posting about the Harlem shake meme videos — I was going to talk about the Waka Flocka Flame effect of enjoying music that makes you dance and have fun — considering the bodily invitation of Baauer’s nice tune.  I was thinking about mapping how many ways we are constrained in movement and how nice that these videos offered a chance to have fun and simply go dumb (Rest In Power Mac Dre).

But of course, the reason why people feel so seemingly liberated is that there is a script to follow — the dances are mapped quite carefully.  Check a couple of the internet meme videos and you’ll see the similarity in the costumes, poses, the points in the song where people are ‘allowed to dance,’ the invitation to unique foolishness is certainly there — but it is a copy of a copy of a copy. . . .

And in that copying is the insult for people who live in Harlem. The mockery and lack of respect for an actual dance form is central for many of the folks interviewed.  I bet most of the people who are in Harlem shake videos would respond by saying: ‘I didn’t know about the history and the ties to the location.”

Which is precisely the difficulty with internet meme videos — the absolute disconnection from context at precisely the time that we are inundated with thousands of replications of the image, each one loving re-embraced by the local players who perhaps (put new text around a much loved image) or (prepare to do the Harlem shake with their buddies arguing over ‘who get’s to wear the mask?’).  In most cases, the internet teaches us that what was once singularly owned or identified can be swept into the internet-o-sphere and assimilated, free of context or culture to become a clever short-term joke.

Thanks to Okayplayer who had the best coverage on this subject including a how-to on a slightly more authentic Harlem Shake.

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Sports music, cultural appropriation and Das Racist

I’m getting prepared to DJ the roller derby bout today.  Thinking about sports-music — the stuff that gets the crowd pumped. A number of quirky tunes came up in my searches, including this catchy number:

But it reminded me of the Das Racist tune which I might just play.

The Das Racist video was created by the brilliant Dallas Penn by the way.

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Filed under Animals, communication, cultural appropriation, music, representation, roller derby

Fortune cookies aren’t Chinese?

Watching Jennifer 8. Lee’s TED lecture on cultural assimilation, appropriation and Chinese food last night was a sixteen minute epiphany.  Something about her credibility — the maniac pace of the lecture, the brilliant video clips and images, the giggling — it all adds up to something quite entertaining and thought provoking.


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Cultural assimilation vs. Marketing: the Nike Black and Tan edition

Thanks to kicksonfire for the image.

Nike’s new shoe, the Black and Tan, has been released presumably to take advantage of St. Patrick’s day drinking/marketing opportunities.  Whoops.  Turns out that the Black and Tan is a sour brand in Ireland because of the hated military/police group which murdered and terrorized civilians during the early twenties.

The Black and Tans were a colonial army recruited from England ostensibly to police the people of Ireland.  The lack of oversight and genuine racism in the face of a guerrilla uprising led to a terrible disdain for civilians.  The roughshod police force (their name is a reference to the haphazard uniforms of the unit) was almost 7-10,000 strong and recruited from former World War I veterans.

In retaliation for attacks on police forces, the Black and Tans attacked civilians, burned homes and businesses and in one case refused an entire village food.  Consider the documentary The Burning of Cork.

The Nike marketing error is evidence of the smooth appropriation transforming actual Irish history into a bizarre tourist narrative emphasizing drinking, leprechauns, and Irish-affiliated brands.  These tourist realities corrode against the actual history of Sinn Fein, Home Rule, and the bodily struggles associated with Irish Nationalism.

The assumption of Nike, that their party, party, party language was the universal meaning points to a kind of linguistic arrogance. NPR’s Melissa Block and Robert Siegel interviewed Brian Boyd of the Irish Times on the Nike apology.

BLOCK: Now, Nike has released a statement saying: We apologize, no offense was intended. At the same time, Nike says the sneaker has been, quote, unofficially named by some as the Black and Tan.

SIEGEL: That said, if you look inside the shoe – as we have done with online photos – you see an image of a pint of beer with two colors, black and tan.

BLOCK: Brian Boyd of The Irish Times has reported on some outrage over the shoe. But really, he says, it’s not about a shoe. It’s about a holiday.

BOYD: It’s how the Americans view Saint Patrick’s Day and view Irish culture and history. And it’s the very fact that some people are saying that these are beer-themed sneakers, that the only way to celebrate a national holiday of a country with a very rich culture and a very rich history and literature, et cetera, is to pour massive amounts of alcohol down your body.

It’s how the American treat St. Patrick’s Day. So we’re using this story to say, look, it’s the silly Americans, stupid Americans, look what they’re doing again. They’ve got it all wrong.

via Nike Kicks Up Controversy With ‘Black And Tan’ Shoes : NPR.

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Shopping for native american appropriation

Who is buying the cultural hijack this season?  Here are four excerpts from my buddy Zack’s reflection on cheesy selling of Native American identity.

Seeing as how this week is that special time of the year when Americans young and old come together in order to collectively indulge in enough food, mirth, and myth to sanitize the brutal genocide upon which America country was founded, I thought it would be nice to provide some shopping advice for this Friday’s consume-a-thon, and to pay tribute to the corporate tribe that has been gracious enough to supply the world with Eskimo Redneck Ice Chisels and 50 round rifle magazines.

via Cabela’s Hearts Indians | Souciant.

Who calls it colonialism?  I just see some king-of-the-hill type wisdom.

Contrary to the logic of sane people, the British arbitrarily decided that this vast expanse of land was ‘theirs’, since the ancient law of man asserts the right for pigmentally-challenged people to claim anything and everything as their own private property, as long as they arrive at said destination by boat (FACT: Even today, if a white guy can technically sail a boat right up to your house and dismount on your property, then it’s totally his for the taking.)

via Cabela’s Hearts Indians | Souciant.

And of course the real question about shopping is WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT ME?

Whether seen as a tools, weapons, or tweapons gifted directly from the Great Spirit to the neoprene’d hands of man, there are three models from which consumers can choose, including the Stone Club (pictured above), which is the ideal choice for (a) those wishing to add masculine nuance to their existing ‘Indians-were-majestic-but-I’m-not-giving-back-this-mountain’ chalet decor, or perhaps (b) the smaller niche market shopper who simply wants to add Blunt Force Trauma to his or her resume.

via Cabela’s Hearts Indians | Souciant.

Selling the certificate-to-justify-genocide along with the offensive weapons — capitalism at the most savvy!

This item is also “100% Navajo-crafted with a certificate of authenticity,” and this means that you’re actually getting a second guarantee for free, which is Cabela’s certificate of assurance that, if necessary, any critique of their gross commodification of Native history can be deflected with the proverbial Navaho human shield whose name appears on the certificate.

via Cabela’s Hearts Indians | Souciant.

Cheers to Souciant!   Add Zack’s new blog “Dudes against ‘dudes’” to your RSS feed.

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