dmilewski: (Default)
[personal profile] dmilewski
My wife has been asking herself some good questions about cultural appropriation and storytelling. She's quite the storyteller.

This brings up two questions for me:
  • Is storytelling cultural appropriation?
  • Can you culturally appropriate stories?
In my mind, which is the only one that counts here for this blog, storytelling is cultural dissemination by definition. The job of storytelling is to spread culture rather than take it. Storytellers usually introduce a story, tell a little about who created the story, give enough context to understand it, then they relate it. In other words, by attributing the story, they seek to give the original culture both context and power, seeking to have that story from another culture speak for itself.

Given that context, that a storyteller seeks to spread the story of another culture, they raise the voice of that culture. They give voice to the other culture beyond the normal reach of that culture. A storyteller breaks the narrative of the dominant culture by bringing in the story of the oppressed culture. Isn't that what you want?

How can a subjugated culture get its voice heard if it can't get its stories told?

Would it be better for someone of that culture to tell that story? Yes, that would be best. That would also be ideal, and we don't live in an ideal world. So what's more important, for a subjugated culture to tell all its own stories, or to have its stories spread so that more people know its stories?

But are all stories meant to be spread? Are some stories private? Are sacred stories not meant for others, but only for the originating culture?

I have no answers for that. 

So storytelling is a problem. It both disseminates the stories of a subjugated culture that they want spread, while also spreading stories that they would prefer not be spread. 

To my mind, a large chunk of cultural appropriation is, do you pose yourself as something that you cannot pose yourself? That which exists at a community level is permitted and recognized by the community. Only the community can permit those things, such as its religious and political leaders.

To make matters more complicated, other cultures have differing standards, which makes cultural appropriation rather relative. There can be no firm definition as there is no one culture.

In the end, I think that cultural appropriation poses an irresolvable problem. As a member of the dominant culture, I am damned to cultural appropriation because of my cultural membership. I cannot move lest I culturally appropriate, which is impossible, because humans cannot make themselves static, so I must culturally appropriate. 

I think that I'll add cultural appropriation to the list of death and taxes. It's unavoidable, but avoiding it is generally a smart idea.

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