This last week’s post Can Anyone Own Culture Today? generated a lot of questions and comments. A few people were concerned that I was saying that a Mexican can’t perform a German opera or a German can’t learn how to make enchiladas and open a restaurant. This is what happens. As a commenter pointed out: “we all humans love to learn”. Isn’t learning the same thing as cultural cut and paste? People do learn new things from other cultures like food preparation, customs and practices and use them in their life. The issue is how we do it. Do we do it with respect and authenticity or not? So what is the difference between learning and cultural cutting and pasting? What I mean by cultural cut and paste is that the learning goes to the next step. The next step is the cutting of that learning from the original culture and pasting or integrating the learning into one’s cultural every day. The difference between learning and the cultural cut and paste process is the application feature. Cultural cut and paste is the application or action step that a human takes to apply what was learned. Sometimes we learn something from another culture while on a trip or going to someone’s house and we don’t have any interest in using it at home. If we decide to do it, the issue is how to apply the learning in a respectful and authentic way.
Cultural Cut and Paste Process
Upon reflection this past week, I decided there is another component to this process. It is the added dimension of “copy”. Sometime we copy something from another culture much like we copy text from one document to another. When we copy text, we leave the original text intact. Much like when we copy something from another culture, the original culture stays intact. Or does it? Let’s take a dominant culture encountering an indigenous culture for example. One cannot guarantee that when a dominant culture copies something from an indigenous culture that the original piece stays intake. I believe there are times that the way the dominant culture messages the copy and uses it could alter the original. This is a cautionary tale to consider as dominant cultures across the globe have interacted with indigenous cultures and continue to do so. All cultures are like precious natural resources and should be protected from materialistic decimation. As stated in the previous post, we have a collective responsibility.
Cultural Copy and Paste Process
In the context of a dominant culture, a corporation or an individual attempting to take or own another culture provides the context for why both (learning and respectful cut/copy and paste) are important. We are moving towards increased multiracial and intercultural interactions which behoove us to figure out how to apply our new learning in a meaningful and authentic way.
Another question that came up is: How do I know if I am ripping off another culture? So much of what we do is cultural cut/copy and paste. What if I am inspired by the fashion, music or something from another culture? Can I just take it and use it without giving credit? An example is what I noticed in the southwest during my last visit. Local Dine artists created and sold their silversmith turquoise jewelry to tourists at a price they thought was fair and market bearing. A quick trip to a nearby city or town off the rez showcased similar jewelry made by non-native artists who sold their work at quadruple the price of what the Dine used. This is an example of ripping off another culture for personal gain.
My last post featured insights from Kevin Locke, award winning Dakota flutist and hoop dancer. Readers had more questions and were interested in carrying on the conversation with him. So we are blessed to be able to ask him a few more questions.
Kevin Locke Interview
Thank you Kevin for sharing your perspective last week on the cultural misappropriation of the Dakota flute and that no one can own a culture. My readers are interested in what to do when they want to apply their learning and do a respectful copy and paste process. You have interacted with so many diverse peoples, what advice would you give to individuals or businesses who want to be authentic?
We have to shift our perspective from a material one to a spiritual one where we believe that we are all legitimate heirs to humanity’s cultural wealth. I believe that everyone has the right to achieve one’s destiny.
An example I can share is that a person can learn something from another culture in an authentic way. For instance, right now I am teaching a class on the Dakota flute for teachers to get trained on the authentic way of Dakota flute playing. We did a whole section on the indigenous American flute. The flute playing is so unique compared to the European classical style. It is unique in that the individual ornamentation of playing like the grace notes of vibrato, creating breath sounds, and the like, is individual to the flutist. Their individual style would be inspired by the song birds of their locality. So teachers are learning the Dakota foundations and origins in an authentic way.
How do you think people could handle the permission aspect when someone may feel awkward or don’t know anyone from the new culture they have learned to love and want to copy something?
This is a sensitive issue and the answer depends on the community. For example, the Meskwaki from Iowa, until recently, did not want their language written down. Some Lakota still feel that way today. The onus is on us to reach out to others and be respectful and authentic. I believe that it is our youth who have the great opportunity to achieve the goals of being respectful to everyone from other cultures.
Kevin, you have made me think. What about something that comes from one culture and becomes main stream in an inauthentic or false way into the dominant culture? The Dakota flute is a great example of a dominant culture copy and paste. You explained that a European way of playing the Dakota flute has spread across the globe and become main stream. Now that we know this, what could a lover of the flute do to rectify their inauthentic cultural copy and paste?
This is an opportunity to pause and reflect. Once a person knows, they can introduce themselves to the underpinnings and indigenous foundation of the Dakota flute.
Thank you Kevin for your insights! We should take the time to reflect on our practice.
My main point is that as we continue to work together more closely and our cultural practices, beliefs, foods, jewelry, designs, etc. will be on display and be shared. As Kevin points out, we need to reach out to each other so we do not rip anybody off and have authentic, genuine friendships. It is up to us in 2013 to figure out how to be authentic and respectful towards each other.
Homework: Reflect on your own practice. What kind of cultural learner are you? Do you cut and paste or copy and paste? If yes, what skills are you using to ensure that you apply your learning to reach out to other cultures to copy and paste authentically?