January 23rd, 2009


Something powerful

This essay has been linked all over the place, but I think only about a third of my flist move in circles where you'll have seen it already. It's sort of a Jewish take on Cultural Appropriation, but only sort of. I think emotionally it feels very appealing to me, and it's very beautifully written and all, but after I stopped to think about it for 30 seconds I'm not sure I agree.

I'm kind of agnostic about cultural appropriation at all. I really have no problem with the fact that Americans eat bagels with ham, or sprinkle their conversation with Yiddish words which bear little relationship to the tiny little fragments of Yiddish I picked up from my father's family. And I have no problem with people using bits of Jewish mythology in novels, even if it's garbled. But some of the stuff in nextian's post does bother me. I want to underline that she's not saying that Christianity itself is an appropriation of Judaism, she's saying that assuming that Judaism is nothing but a precursor to Christianity or talking about "Judeo-Christian society" erases the Jews who are alive today and actively engaged with our tradition. And the kind of atheism which says, the Bible is really dumb LOL! without actually having any understanding how the Bible is part of a whole religious framework is pretty rude to Christians as well as Jews, but that's another thing, and I have a pretty good idea why atheists, especially American ones, are defensive about these things.

(I probably shouldn't get into this, but I think the recent Cultural Appropriation stuff was mostly not about Cultural Appropriation at all, it was about actual racism. None of the main players were saying, I hate it when white people write about my non-American culture or about characters with dark skin, which was how it seemed to come across to many white readers. They were saying, I hate it when white writers use lazy and offensive stereotypes of my culture and ethnicity. Or, I hate the fact that I barely have a culture because my country and language were wrecked by colonialism.)

But yeah, reading that post I can see how easy it would be to get into a mindset of being massively offended about how my minority culture is treated by the majority culture, and constructing a certain language framework and taking it as an affront when anyone made any remark outside that framework. I don't know if that's helpful or not (cakmpls has an interesting piece arguing that getting into this sort of mindset is harmful, because it lumps together all the members of an oppressed people instead of treating them as individuals. I'm inclined to her point of view, though I wouldn't go so far as to ban the terms sexist and racist altogether.) This isn't a very accomplished post, just a statement of being in a confused emotional state.

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