When Did Common Sense Stop Being Common? More on Cultural Misappropriation

Maybe my English will be better in this post.

Let me be clear, if you are INVITED to participate in a religious ritual of a group to which you are not a part, of course that’s not misappropriation. You were INVITED. Com’mon friends, let’s use our common sense here. Cultural misappropriation is not about participating in an event/ritual to which one is invited. It [cultural misappropriation] is about organizing that ritual when no one who will be participating in it is a member of that group. Hence my example of the Passover Seder.

Let’s clear up something else too. There is a difference between EDUCATING people about different religious rituals and misappropriating them. Many UU ministers will have sermons in the upcoming weeks talking about the symbolism and meanings of the Jewish High Holy Days. That is not misappropriating them. That’s educating. Misappropriating them would be for a UU church to have High Holy Days services. See…common sense.

Like I said in my original post, maybe there needs to be some clarification of the terms in the by-laws . I have no doubt about that. Most things UU need that kind of clarification. But something needs to be said and it’s about damn time somebody said it.

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13 thoughts on “When Did Common Sense Stop Being Common? More on Cultural Misappropriation

  1. “It [cultural misappropriation] is about organizing that ritual when no one who will be participating in it is a member of that group. Hence my example of the Passover Seder.”

    Which brings me to ask how many 97% white U*U churches celebrate Kwanzaa?

  2. Kim, am I the one you’re accusing of not having common sense, or someone else? If me, part of the question is about the correctness of a giyoret inviting someone. If it’s someone else who has no common sense, then never mind….

  3. Does this mean that, as a UU, a person can read a book about Buddhism, but not actually practice meditation?

    If so, there was more freedom in the liberal Christian churches I once attended.

  4. Kim,

    The dangers of cultural misappropriation can be discovered through the parable of the six blind elephants and the man (a re-telling of the parable of six blind men trying to discover the nature of the elephant):

    “Six wise, blind elephants were discussing what humans were like. Failing to agree, they decided to determine what humans were like by direct experience.

    The first wise, blind elephant felt the human, and declared, ‘Humans are flat.’

    The other wise, blind elephants, after similarly feeling the human, agreed.”

    I had posted this story on my blog about two years ago. The source is anonymous and it’s certainly not original with me:

    http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/2006/01/six-wise-blind-elephants.html

    Like the blind elephants, we Unitarian Universalists may accidentally transform and even distort another’s religion into a form wildly different from the original through our exploration.

  5. “Like the blind elephants, we Unitarian Universalists may accidentally transform and even distort another’s religion into a form wildly different from the original through our exploration.”

    I still don’t get it. Say a congregation adopts Ramadan, and gets it all wrong. So what? 50-100 UUs aren’t going to transform 3 billion muslims. The only thing that has happened is that some UUs are fasting for reasons they don’t have right. No one has been harmed, save for the possibility that a UU from that congregation might make a fool of himself. Why is this worth writing into the PPs?

  6. If you look back at Emerson & Thoreau, they actively, aggressively appropriated material from Asian and Middle Eastern testaments and religious thinkers. What they made from those sources and influences really bears little resemblance to the sources (taken in cultural context).

    Religious meaning is always a patchwork of the traditions an d experiences appropriated by a given community of faith. If we as UUs stand for anything, it’s for assembling that patchwork, “building our own theology.”

    Yet I’m bothered by the inauthenticity I feel when confronted by paganism, “western” Buddhism, observances like Kwaanza, first American ceremonies, etc. I have to remind myself that as we observe these ceremonies, we begin to give them meaning in our own culture.

  7. I’m confused.

    I’ve been invited by Jewish friends to Passover seder. It was, in fact, my understanding that this was common and appropriate practice among Jews.

    Now, if there are Jews in my UU congregation who hold a seder and invite me, is that appropriate (or misappropriation)? If they organize and hold a seder to which the congregation is invited, is that? What if they engage non-Jewish members in helping arrange and cook for this? How many Jews need to be involved–is it ok as long as one Jewish member is participating? Is it misappropriation then if this practice has gone on for years and a non-Jewish UU who has participated actively finds it terribly meaningful… moves, and arranges a seder for the congregation that they’re in which doesn’t have any current members who are Jewish?

    It’s this murkiness that makes misappropriation so hard to address.

    Bill, part of what’s interesting is that the meaning of things changes even within a culture. I can well imagine (aside from hysteria from some) the shock in some UU congregations if someone was to offer Christian communion as part of the service–and yet that’s done in some congregations and has been, without cease, since before they became Unitarian. Yet I can imagine some people suggesting that it’s a religious ritual that’s not UU and in adopting it it’s being misappropriated.

    My sense is that there are different issues withing the misappropriation category.

  8. “. . . the shock in some UU congregations if someone was to offer Christian communion . . .”

    Agreed. I sometimes lead or speak at our lay services, and I’ve been tempted to deal with communion, which is still a significant ritual to me, but I’m not brave enough — yet.

    I’m just becoming aware of the “(mis)appropriation” issue, and I don’t know where I’ll come down, because I see valid points on both sides. My big fear is that — one more time — we as UUs will be made to look SILLY in the eyes of those who don’t appreciate us already.

    And at the same time we will continue to “(mis)appropriate” the symbols, rituals, and texts of other cultures (as they will of ours) because humans are meaning-making creatures. We’re so prone to making meaning that we do it in a meta fashion — by making meaning out of asking the question itself.

  9. I’m going to echo Orge a bit here, because my church is closely affiliated with a Jewish group. So closely that I’m not sure where the line is and how many members overlap. Suffice to say, when they hold seder in our building, it’s not during a regular service, but all of the members of my church are invited to participate.

    I’m guessing that means that it’s not appropriation in your eyes, but I’m not sure, because I’m not 100 percent sure that these folks are Jewish, or to what degree they are.

    Either way, I’ve never gone. But if I did go, would I need to research this group and carefully figure out how Jewish they actually are before I knew if I could go in good conscience? And of course, there are lots of different ways to define “Jewish.” I’d rather not have to take family histories.

    I’m being a bit facetious here, of course, but either way, this isn’t as obvious to me as it apparently is to you, and I apologise if my own lack of common sense is the culprit.

    We seem to have pretty much decided on my blog that if folks in India translate “Old Man River” into Hindi and sing it about the Ganges, that’s a respectful use of the source material, while Gwen Stefani wearing a bindi because it looks cool is not. That much does seem like common sense. But things get a lot murkier in between.

    CC

  10. Steven, Yes this is the most comments that I’ve gotten on any post. And I must say I’m surprised, going by the normal traffic on this blog. But I’m glad that people are reading over here now.

  11. “ ‘I have to remind myself that as we observe these ceremonies, we begin to give them meaning in our own culture.’
    “Isn’t that what cultural *misappropriation* is all about Bill?”

    Robin, that certainly is what appropriation is all about. I’d say the “mis” is in the eye of the beholder.

    The debate about mis/appropriation is in many ways a debate about purity, about definitions. About getting everyone is his/her correct box. And I have a sense that the only people NOT privileged in this conversation are the “majority” UUs (which I’m not sure really exist). There seems to be an idealized background group which is stealing (another word for “misappropriating”) the cultural identities of the (oppressed) groups.

    Yet most of the UUs I know are so multiflavored as to defy such categorization.

    I suspect that critical theory is diffusing into the church from the academy. Wonder what will happen when it gets to the Baptists.

    Bill

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