Is Cultural Appropriation a Fallacy?

Great article from Santafemous. “How do we make peace with the past? We are all borrowing from one another, could that be cause to celebrate and enjoy our common ground?”


A Burner recently posted on Facebook that she had lost her segue during Burning Man 2014. Her request for assistance was rapidly subjugated to a heated name-calling fest that resulted in the post being deleted. Because her photo showed her wearing a headdress, the woman was called a douche, and she was accused of cultural appropriation. As the thread devolved, the people posting called one another ignorant, clueless, assholes, idiots, haters & uppity bitches. It culminated in this vulgar comment:

“I do believe this is a joke and if it is not…I buried it out by the trash fence after I stole your hooker and corn holed her at the clown tent. Thanks for the great ride.”

As the sputum flew, I took a screen shot of the post, thinking I’d like to write about it. I have altered the photo to protect the woman’s identity.

Woman rocks a Headdress

The Burning Man Principle of Radical Self-Expression…

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17 comments on “Is Cultural Appropriation a Fallacy?

  1. Semi naked tripping white girls wearing war bonnets is especially upsetting to Native Americans because it goes against everything they hold sacred. They are not into nudity, drugs and alcohol are a particularly difficult problem among N.A. groups, and everything they ever had or held scared was ripped from them in the cruelest and most heinous circumstances that in many ways was tantamount to genocide. So if you they they are only being over sensitive, then I would say you are speaking from a particular vantage of privilege and an ignorance, perhaps willfully, of history and the impact that poverty and oppression has on an individual and a culture in general.
    If someone you care about tells you that a particular behavior hurts them, you try to respect their request to not do that anymore because you care about them. When a group of people tells you that what you are doing disrespects their culture and their beliefs, you say “you are too sensitive, get over it”?
    I think that the least we can do is try to respect one another. Refraining from wearing a war bonnet doesn’t hurt you, it doesn’t restrict your self expression, it doesn’t cost you anything. So why not just show some respect and oblige?


    • Some Native Americans are offended by non-Native Americans wearing war bonnets. Not all are. Some Catholics are offended at ANYONE wearing priest/nun Halloween costumes. Not all are. I understand the awful history the US government has with the Native American population. But the people using Native American artifacts in their costumes are doing so not out of mockery.

      If you haven’t yet, read the original post from santafemous here:

      In it, she makes excellent points about how carrying past wounds from generation to generation prolongs a victim mentality that can hobble a community. And also about the many talented Native American artists who sell war bonnets, among other things, to the general population. Should they be discouraged from doing so? Or, should they come with some kind of user guide? It’s my belief that when a community can distinguish between cultural borrowing as appreciation, and prejudice and/or true insensitivity, only then can it (and we) heal.

      Liked by 2 people

          • That is up to them. Hell, I’m from Georgia and people there can’t get over the North burning down Southern towns. I’d like to tell them to get over it, since they are my people, so to speak, but I don’t.


          • have you ever been ripped from your home and forced to live in a place contaminated with uranium with no arable land or water? If so, then I would like to hear what you have to say about telling people they need to get over it. That’s like my friend who was in a car accident due to a drunk driver and is paralized. Should I tell her to get over it?


          • I have a N.A. friend who is adamant about the war bonnet issue, so I honor his feelings and tty to be sensitive. I’m happy to do it. I don’t need to wear something that hurts other people in order to express myself. I guess that’s just me.


    • Going a little deeper, this discussion can be couched in the differences between how the majority and minority populations view cultural borrowing. The majority population looks favorably on outside populations emulating its culture. In some ways, this is merely an indirect form of oppression, in that to be included in mainstream society, the minority population must adopt the majority’s culture. I suppose the casual stance the majority has in this case (and in all cases) stems for the privileged role members of the majority have in society.

      On the other side, minority populations tend to protect their cultural artifacts fiercely as a way of holding on to their identities in the face of, at times, tacit and unwanted inculcation by the majority. They may view something like a white girl wearing a war bonnet as a form of that inculcation, robbing a Native American symbol of its culturally unique meaning. I get that.

      BUT, this is a big world with lots of different cultures continuously co-mingling. As a species, we borrow from each other. To fight this is to risk isolation and stagnation.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I collect tribal art. I have aboriginal paintings, shields from Papua New Guinea, Fijian ceremonial war clubs. I am neither aboriginal, new guinean, or Fijian. By collecting their arts and crafts, and presumably providing a source of income for the tribe, have I somehow hurt the tribe? Am I being disrespectful, to love their art so much I want to hang it on my walls and show it to people?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Right, exactly. Of course, there is a history of cultural looting (I’m looking at you, British Museum), where important cultural artifacts were spirited away from their native countries all in the name of science and art. (There’s also the counter-argument that those artifacts, once uncovered, would have been looted anyway by native bandits and vanished forever in private collections.) But a reasonable person would know the difference between your legit art collection, and looting, and would not let past injustices color their decision making.

          I feel this is a legitimate analogy to the original discussion here. Native American-influenced costumery at BM is most likely not obtained by ill-gotten means, and is not meant to mock or offend.

          Also, there’s a difference between holding something sacred and being precious about it. I’m Catholic, I hold a lot of Catholic iconography as sacred based on what it represents. Jesus, in particular, I’m fond of. But I’m not precious about it (and I don’t think Jesus would be either). My earlier example of a guy dressed as Jesus asking for a ride on our art car actually happened. I thought it was hilarious, he was fully in character and everyone on the car treated him as such and asked him crazy religious questions. I was running low on booze and asked him to turn the water in my Camelbak to wine, etc. That doesn’t mean I don’t find the teachings of Jesus as found in the Bible as sacred. I do. But for a person (or community) to treat what they hold as sacred as something fragile and easily broken is, I think, more of a statement on that person/community more than anything else. For communities with histories of oppression, that’s a tall order. But, in my opinion, it has to be done.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I simply do not feel that a person has a right to tell another person how they should or should not feel about what they consider sacred. I’m an athiest and I think any religion is ridiculous, but when I go to Europe and visit churches (for example) I threat the buildings with the respect that the followers ask. When I go to work in mountian towns in Guatemaula, I cover my legs at all times, because that is their custom. Who am I, or you, to tell a group or an individual what they should and should not feel about their cultural symbols? It reeks of authoritarianism.


          • Visiting another culture and abiding by their customs is a different situation than dressing up at a multi-cultural event. There are situational differences for behavior. I certainly wouldn’t condone showing up to a Native American ceremony wearing a war bonnet. Or to a Catholic church wearing a priest’s outfit. That is actually disrespectful because of the situational context. But at Burning Man? Hell, mixing and jamming cultures and media together in a provocative manner is practically the whole point of the event. And it’s not meant to be disrespectful. Playing with identities on the playa, whether personal or cultural, is a good thing. It’s why people adopt playa names. Burning Man is a temporary autonomous zone where people can go to try on all kinds of things they normally wouldn’t at home.


  2. I’ve seen quite a few priest and nun get-ups out there. Pretty sure those people weren’t actually priests and/or nuns. They may not have even been Catholic!! Also saw a Jesus walking around once, he asked for a ride on our art car, I said sure, I have a lot of questions for you anyway. Turns out, he was just a hippie. So disappointed.

    People wearing Native American get-ups are doing so because it looks cool. Period. Same with the Arab desert get-ups. Looks awesome out there. Now, if they were imitating a sacred dance or something, then MAYBE it’d be culturally insensitive. But playing dress-up? If that offends you, oh well, you’re dying to be offended. This is not an issue like naming a sports team the Redskins (as Chris Rock joked, that’s like calling your team the Niggers). Now THAT’S offensive, because it’s taking a derogatory term and using it like the word isn’t loaded. But headdresses are not derogatory in and of themselves, and it the people wearing them are just doing so as ornamentation while not acting out some kind of faux Native American ritual, then what’s the problem? How about the kaftans? Should only Arabs be allowed to wear them?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The modern Burner “culture” is a massive appropriation of the cultural aesthetic of the happy anarchist. It’s a giant hipster tailgate party in the desert. All Burners like to think they’re counter-cultural because they play dress-up once a year in the desert. It’s all about perception – the person appropriating the cultural icons and/or habits believes they’re enhancing those things or somehow keeping them alive. And everyone else laughs at people like that.


    • I’d argue it had little to do with conscious attempts to keep things alive. They just think it looks good.

      The earnest sartorial stasi that lambasted her for wearing it prolly sends hate mail to the village people appreciation society.

      Fuck them and their sanctimonious noise.

      Want to be offensive? Dress up as Andrew Jackson.

      Want to look a bit daft whilst thinking you look awesome? Wear feathers and go to Burningman.

      We all steal culture, we all steal ideas, structures and styles. And if you think you don’t… you’re a fucking hipster.

      Liked by 1 person

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