Saturday, April 30, 2016

"I Hate White People"

Just sitting here, watching twitter. I searched "white people" to see what I can see. Interesting indeed. I mean, I'm not even digging deep here. I'm just plucking stuff off the live feed as it goes by for the most part. So, I'm just putting this out there. I don't think I will comment. Yes, there are things I can say, but I also know what the pat answers will be, or my comments may be taken the wrong way. And please, just don't assume you know what I would say. You don't. So, I'll just let it be.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What Is This Cultural Appropriation Stuff?

Okay, in the last month we have had two high profile cases where this whole concept of cultural appropriation has busted loose. First, it was that African-American student at San Francisco State University that accused a white kid with dreads of cultural appropriation. Today, Justin Bieber was being ripped apart because he decided to sport dread-locks.

Now, here is what I can get behind. I know the whole black face thing is bad...and I get it. It has always had negative connotations. It's history is routed in insult. I can see why we steer clear of it. Got it. I'm on board. I understand why the Washington Redskin's logo is problematic, using a stereotyped depiction of a Native American as a logo is an understandable bad thing to do. I can even somewhat understand the uproar over those Native headdress knock off's that aren't really anything like traditional headdresses, just influenced by it, but I can see how they feed into stereotypes and can be problematic depending on how they are used, although don't see it as universally terrible.

But then comes the issue of dreadlocks. And that's where I stop and say no. That's my personal boundary on where I am NOT going to support people being upset.

In my 42 years on this planet, I've seen white people wearing dreads. It's not exactly some new thing white folks picked up. It's been around for a long time. In fact, it seems to me the word dreadlocks is about the only thing that has really been appropriated because seemingly any type of matted hair is called dreadlocks.

But, looking into the history of this varied hairstyle, there does not seem to be one clear, distinct culture it comes from. Love it or hate it, in this case Wikipedia does an interesting job of breaking down the assortment of cultures the "style" has been found in.

So, the question arises: When someone says that dreads are cultural appropriation, what culture is it exactly that is being appropriated?

It seem some folks say that the answer is "black culture" or "African culture". Wha? That's a pretty generic, all encompassing "culture". What even is that? I mean, African culture? How many countries are in Africa? How many cultures within Africa are there? How many cultures of people who originated in Africa but are now outside of Africa for a variety of reasons are there? Is the argument that there is one, giant, uniform African culture that has a copyright on this particular way of wearing ones hair? So, I don't really understand what this culture is. It doesn't account for the many, many, many cultures, sub-cultures, sub-sub-subcultures, etc that exist within any ethnic group. For that matter, all "blacks" aren't from one homogeneous culture anymore than all whites are.

So I object to these generic cultural claims that seem so wide sweeping, where blacks, or even crazier, the all encompassing POC (people of colour) and white seem to be the only two cultures that exist. And somehow, dreadlocks, or whatever you want to call hair that is twisted, matted, clumped together, or meticulously, artistically manipulated, depending on what the wearer is doing with them, are reserved exclusively for POC.  Does this mean ANYONE who is deemed POC is free to do something that appears like dreadlocks with their hair, but those deemed white aren't? I'm confused.

I've been seeing a lot of kids on twitter who are talking about cultural appropriation bringing up celebrities like Kylie Jenner, the Kardashians and some other people I don't know as examples. Apparently, they feel that when white people wear dreads, it's celebrated and seen as cool, but when black people do it, they are seen as thugs and hoodlums. Again, this is something I see as a pretty generalized view of things. I think it's far more complicated than that. But one problem I see is that way too many of these kids are watching really crappy TV and listening to terrible, terrible music.

Here is what I don't get. The Kardashians are olive/darker skinned Armenians. I would think they would fall under the category of POC. BUT, apparently, they are deemed to be white. Huh? How is this determined exactly? Who is judging? Who makes these calls? Apparently, because olive/darker skin Kardashians are seen as white, them wearing dreads is bad....very bad. Okay, well, here is one way to solve the problem...quit making stupid people famous! If they piss you off, don't watch them. When people don't watch them, they go away. Real simple.

Next thing that drives me nuts is when some say "White people can't judge what is and isn't cultural appropriation, only those who are from the culture being appropriated". Okay. Well, here is my problem with that. Does this mean that automatically, because someone says that something is appropriated from them, even though evidence suggests that this is just not true, they must be believed because they are perceived as a victim in this case? And as a result their view is above scrutiny and must be taken at face value and is the final word? There is no room for any criticism of their claims? As that Wikipedia article clearly points out, this wide range of styles melted down under one name has existed across many cultures for thousands of years. So, given that, yes, there is ample reason to challenge claims of appropriation. And it is legit. So, no, the accuser does NOT always get the final say and their view is not above being challenged.

Furthermore, what I don't understand is what exactly the problem with wearing the hairstyle is. We live in a world where cultures have mixed, blended, and influenced eachother since, well, culture started to develop in the human species. We learn from eachother, influence eachother, pick up ideas, etc, etc, you get the picture. There is going to be cross over in cultural practices. That's the way the world works. And right now, we live in a globalized world where cultures are colliding, mixing, influencing, and changing like never before. Ya, cultural practices will alter and blend. It's going to happen. It doesn't have to be seen as bad as accusers seem to imply it is.

I fail to see the damage that a kid wearing dreads is doing in the slightest. I have yet to have anyone explain how it is damaging. I don't understand how it can even be seen as insulting, although I have yet to actually see someone say that it is insulting...they just say it's cultural appropriation and therefore bad and white kids shouldn't do it.

When I was younger, I went to a ton of music festivals. And it was great. And at that time, dreads were quite popular with the damn kids. I would go to see bands and the bands would all have at least one person with dreads, and half the crowd would be sporting them. And it was black kids, white kids, hispanic kids, native kids, whoever, all wearing them, all experiencing these festivals together. No one was running around telling anyone they were appropriating anything, and everyone seemed to get along. What the hell happened? How did it suddenly become "This hairstyle for us, that hairstyle for you...NO MIXING!" When did the kids get so darn crazy. Why can't we go back to that getting along, sharing cultural practices, enjoying life stuff again? Why did it all go so off the rails? How are we getting divided when it seemed like we were united? Is the crime of a white kid wearing dreads so important that we must now divide people into who can wear and who can't wear this hair?

Furthermore, where does it end? How far is this going to go. Is everything we wear and do going to start being scrutinized and analysed and ultimately policed? Is the goal of the people who seem so mad about white kids wearing dreads to ultimately end the practice? Is the goal to compartmentalize everything based on the perceived or real influence of the practice or style? Are we requiring people to stay within a prescribed list of choices that conform to their particular "culture"?

There has to be a line. There must be a limit. Personally, I declare that this vendetta against white kids wearing "dreads" crosses a line, and no I will not feel guilty for that, and no I don't believe for a second it is because I am minimizing the voice of anyone and I am a racist jerk. I feel that I am basing this on well thought out analysis, common sense and logic.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Charlie Hebdo Misunderstood Again. Surprised?

When I saw Charlie Hebdo trending on twitter again, my eyes perked up. What's this? Now what happened? They must have said something that people don't like...again. Since they were shot up it seems that Charlie Hebdo is becoming more and more hated with every article they right or cartoon they draw.

This time around, they wrote what I thought was actually a darn good think piece. But, apparently, I'm one of the few who likes it. It's called "How Did We End Up Here?" and was written as a response to the recent attacks in Brussels.

Everyone who reads it seems to walk away with a different take. Most seem to be walking away with the idea that Charlie Hebdo is a racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic rag that is filled with hate. I walked away feeling like "These guys get it." Funny how that is. And, as a result, I am most likely seen as a racist, xenophobic, Islamophobe as well. I'm not. Well, I hate the word Islamophobe to begin with because it's just plain wrong. It implies that disliking a religion is somehow bad. It isn't. Hating innocent people just because they follow a religion is. And that is what some are arguing that Charlie Hebdo did in this article. I disagree. Completely.

To me, the message is crystal clear. When outside criticism of Islam is seen as Islamophobic and racist and therefore is often shut down, and inside the religion you have people doing what they feel god wants them to do without ever actually questioning why god wants them to do it, then you have a double whammy. When it is taboo to question you have a problem.

In the article, the writer brings up three cases: A baker who buys a local bakery and decides that he won't serve bacon, a woman who wears a veil, and Tariq Ramadan, a "scholar" of Islam.

The argument is that all three play a role in a large mindset that does, in fact, lead to bad things. A baker who believes god doesn't want him to serve bacon and therefore will not sell it to others but doesn't necessarily know why or even question why this is so is just following orders this case from an entity that probably doesn't exist...and is playing into a cultural norm of not questioning. That's not a universal cultural norm among all Muslims, but a cultural norm within a certain subset.

Then you have the veiled woman who puts on the garment merely because she is told that this is what she must do to please her god. She doesn't question why she walks around with it. She just does it. And even saying that "Hey, women wearing these things seems kind of, you know, mysoginistic?" tends to be deeply frowned upon and met with accusations of racism and Islamophobia. How dare question this garment! Obviously, there ARE Muslims that do question it, and who have decided not to wear the veil. The issue is with those that prescribe to the idea that questioning is bad.

Then you have the scholar who says that the religion is perfect, the Quran is perfect, and tries in every way to crush criticism of the religion from both the outside and the inside. He pushes an idea that Islam is above criticism while pretending to be all about openly discussing the religion. But the message is clear...don't worry, Islam is perfect and simple, submit to a perfect god, read this perfect book and you are on the right path.

Then you have the bombers in Brussels. They believed that by blowing shit up, they were doing the right thing...for god...for the religion...which is perfect and unquestionable. The mindset established by calling anyone who criticizes Islam an Islamophobe and thus shutting down debate, the "scholars" within the religion promoting the idea that the religion is perfect and discouraging criticism, and some of the followers who just don't question what their god is asking all create a dangerous mindset where among the good, the bad is allowed to flourish unquestioned and unstopped.

This is what Charlie Hebdo is arguing, and I think they argue it quite well indeed. And, given what has happened to them, the fact that even daring to draw cartoons of the prophet of the religion ended up in several of their staff members dead is the perfect example of what can go wrong when criticism of a religion is stifled or shut down, and when those within the religion refuse to ask questions or criticize as well.

I don't see anything wrong with what they wrote in the slightest. I don't see it as a broad sweeping attack on Muslims. I see it as challenging a certain mindset that does, unfortunately, exist within certain communities within the religion. But, UNFORTUNATELY, it seems to exist within quite a large portion of the religions followers, though not all.

The funny thing always, when it comes to Charlie Hebdo is the fact that when they criticize Islam, the world seems to go nuts. I keep having people say that ya, they are cool with Islam being criticized, but not like THIS! What does that even mean? Is there a guidebook on how to criticize the religion that we can all reference so we know the proper way to talk about the subject. And why aren't all of these same people freaking out when the magazine is critical of other religions? It's just writing about Islam that seems to bring the wrath of so many. It further shows that, for some reason, Islam is set in a different category, by both followers of the religion and well meaning left wing folks. This rush to absolutely protect Islam and Muslims from criticism is almost obsessive and an instantaneous response to any negative statements. And it's been like that for years now. But why?

One person on twitter told me that part of the reason it was so bad was the fact it ONLY talked about Islam. Apparently you can't write an article ONLY about Islam, you have to criticize all of the religions in an article on Islam. Who knew? Does that mean if someone writes and article criticizing capitalism, they also have to make sure they criticize communism in the same article or it's just bad and is attacking one idea/group? Does it make on a capitalistphobe?

As far as I am concerned, Charlie Hebdo made the right criticisms, asked the right questions and posed the right concerns at an important time. To deny that Islam is going through a terrible crisis right now is absurd. The way the religion is manifesting itself in many places in the world, as well as in the West, should be seen as concerning. Does this mean ALL Muslims are bad, scary, violent people. Hell no. Of course not. We can clearly see that isn't the case. No one can honestly argue that all Muslims are a problem. And Charlie Hebdo most certainly did not do that as well.

But, if we are ever going to figure out the crisis facing Islam, and the rough relationship it is having with the West at the moment, without a doubt we MUST look at the religion itself to see what it says, what people believe, how it exists, what path it is on, etc. Trying to find answers in all other places BUT looking critically at the religion is completely missing a major component of the trouble. Are there other factors? Of course. All need criticism. But to shield the religion itself from criticism when clearly it is an important part of this is ridiculous.

None of this is to say that Charlie Hebdo itself is above criticism. Of course it is open for scrutiny. But I do think that much of the criticism it is facing over this article is over the top and not well thought out. It's knee-jerk reactionary and seems to be based on a few elements seen in the article, ignoring the bigger picture, and writing it off as Islamophobic, racist and xenophobic and an attack on innocent Muslims. And that, right there, is also a huge part of the problem. In other words, the critics are proving the article absolutely right.

UPDATE: So, I've been thinking. This is Charlie Hebdo. Above, I took the article at face value and analysed it as such. At face value, I feel confident in my assessment. But what if the article isn't meant to be taken at face value? Maybe it's all sarcasm. Do they mean the opposite of what they say? Is this a possibility? Are we ALL missing the point collectively, both critics and supporters? After all, they are a satirical magazine that often uses biting sarcasm to get a point across. Hmmmm.