Cultural Appropriation is Like Crashing a Party?

Before I begin… This metaphor might be too lighthearted for a serious subject matter. It is my privilege* to be able to talk “lightly” of cultural appropriation. I intend to leverage my privilege (for justice, I hope!) in this instance; I have the emotional energy to write on this subject without deep personal distress and I can offer a blog post that is easy enough to read and a might be place to get the conversation started with newbies, etc.

Still, since I’m always thinking about partying and I also “sometimes” think about important social issues, I thought to myself: Cultural Appropriation Is Like Crashing A Party…!

This birb of Australian descent appropriates "Christian" culture which originally appropriated pagan culture..?

This birb of Australian descent appropriates “Christian” culture which originally appropriated pagan culture..?

Maybe this makes sense to me because of the almost holy respect I have for crashing parties the right way. It is an honor to be a stranger at someone else’s party (and an honor I certainly don’t want to fuck up by being an asshole). Some party crashers choose the “nothing to lose” mentality and swoop on all the drinks and food with no consideration for their hosts, and to them I say, you are ungrateful and terrible. Let’s pretend we don’t want to be ungrateful and terrible, and move on to being appreciative and thoughtful…

How do you know you are crashing a party? Easy, you were not invited. How do you know you’re crashing a culture? Same answer. Is it always bad to crash parties? No, there’s some situations where it’s acceptable, or even welcome. Is it always bad to borrow from other cultures? Refer to previous.

Imagine I’ve crashed a party. My senses are heightened. I observe the local party customs. Do people freely reach into the cooler, or do they ask around before opening a beer that might not be theirs? Where are cigarettes smoked? Who’s allowed to change the music? Since I’m not invited, what extra etiquette precautions must I take to demonstrate I am willing to be a respectful and easygoing guest?

This ordinary keffiyeh is worn for comfort and fashion and (as far as I can tell) is fine to borrow, as opposed to the Palestinian keffiyeh which holds significant political meaning and should probably be researched before choosing to wear.

This ordinary keffiyeh is worn for comfort and fashion and (as far as I can tell) is fine to borrow, as opposed to the Palestinian keffiyeh which holds significant political meaning and should probably be researched before choosing to wear.

Sometimes party etiquette is not about what you don’t do, but how you do participate. If I’m the only one not dancing, I might be making the dancers feel vulnerable, judged. Being a respectful party crasher means trying to defer to the way others do the party thing. You must find the appropriate spot on the spectrum between hot mess and party pooper. You can’t be the only drunken disaster, because you’re stepping all over someone else’s party (and being oppressive), but you also can’t be a total wallflower in a room full of rockstars because you’re going to come across as lazy or stifling or a cop or worse.

And you know what you do when you really don’t fit in at a party you’re crashing and you might be making others uncomfortable? You leave.

Here’s where I’m reaching, but I think cultural appropriation suffers from the same inappropriate levels of participation. People will put on a war bonnet (or a “feather headdress”) because they think it looks cool, but they won’t bother to learn about the meaning of the bonnet (low participation = disrespectful). Or, in the other direction, you might be invited to partake in a customary food, but then you go too far and put on all the makeup and try to lead the sermon (overbearing participation = oppressive).

I think borrowing from other cultures primarily begs one to ask, “Am I invited?” Or, more deeply, “In what ways am I invited (or not)?”

If you choose to ignore your lack of invitation, then how far are you willing to crash? To what consequences? Now, if the cultural item is religious, to what extent am I willing to apply my personal ideology that nothing is sacred? If I’m rebelling against an institution? What if my actions hurt someone’s feelings? What if I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about? Is it really that important to me to wear a white keffiyeh with a black fishnet pattern, or could I choose a more neutral gray one because I really have no personal connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

So, at the end of the day, I would ask my friends and others to remember that they might be culture crashers. Being actively aware that you’re crashing a party you weren’t invited to is the first step to being a better guest.


*As a white person & as a person comprised mostly of cultures that tend to do the appropriating rather than be appropriated from, I acknowledge my privilege and my lack of personal insight. My heritage is a bit Swedish, for example, of the Viking variety. Vikings pillaged and stole (and raped) so much that they are actually known for it. That’s pretty shitty, and it’s shitty that assumption tends to raise a hand to the mouth to stifle a yawn rather than red flags or even a single eyebrow.

I do subscribe to some aspects of “gay culture,” so I guess I have felt some stings of appropriation in that regard (Macklemore = pls stop). It’s an intersectional issue, for sure.

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I’ll wait in line for Bernie Sanders (San Diego Rally, March 2016)

bernie-car-2016-crate

We had less than 48 hours to gather for the Bernie Sanders rally at the San Diego Convention Center, the same venue that hosts SD Comic-Con.

I knew the event opened at 5pm, and Bernie spoke at 8. I suspected if I got to the center by 5pm, I might make it inside to see my presidential hopeful. Knowing the time commitment that already represented, I opted to take a leisurely early dinner with another Bernie supporter, munching on fried duck skins and seafood salad (at barleymash — delicious). Another friend of ours dropped a pin so we could meet him in line.

We followed the dotted line on my phone, past people lined up outside the front of the convention center, through the stairway in the middle, and out to the back lawn and wharf. Miles of supporters formed a snake that reached both ends of the embarcadero and doubled (tripled?) in its center. This exceeded my expectations, to put it lightly.

I have never been so happy to wait in a line, and it’s not just because I was buzzed off the two IPAs I had with lunch. Not only was the joy surrounding me contagious, but also people were courteous, never over-eager about their place in the queue, never territorial.  That Nintendo DS I mentioned to entertain myself? Didn’t open it once. Above all, I was just thrilled to be there, to be another body on the ground, showing my support. Being a part the 10,000 or 15,000 or 20,000 headcount (numbers seem to vary depending if news sources count who actually made it in, who stood in line, and who showed up in total).

I texted a picture of (just a portion of) the line to my dad, and he said, “That is a beautiful image.”

bernie sandiers line san diego 2016 convention center

The sun had set by the time we neared the front of the Convention Center building. Out from the dark road came blaring red lights, and cheers roared at the realization that this was Bernie’s motorcade.

By then the line was moving in a brisk march. To my happy surprise, I made it into the overflow room.

bernie-sanders-rally-SD-overflow-room-2016

Before the end of his speech, my hands were sore from clapping, my throat dry from hollering, and my feet tired from standing. My face hurt from smiling. Then, I was hit with this sudden, poignant feeling. I realized, if he doesn’t win, I will be genuinely sad. I have never agreed so much with a candidate, never felt so much hope, and never cared so much about the outcome of a race. This feeling nested in my heart for the rest of the night.

You’ve got to win this, Bernie. You have just got to win.

Bernie Rally Today

No blog post today, as the Bernie Sanders Rally is my priority! Doors open at 5pm, and he goes on at 8pm (guess I’ll bring my Nintendo DS to entertain me while I’m in line).

I’ll write up my impression of the event either tomorrow night or Thursday.

Rally Event Details

See you downtown!

(Edit: if you missed your chance to RSVP, it’s ok, you can still attend. Just try to get in line early so you can make it before it hits capacity. First come, first serve.)

Why Bernie is my political “first”

It’s not that I hate politics. I don’t care enough about them to hate them. Am I really lazy and self-centered? Finances: handled. Family: close. Friends: cherished. Art (and writing): nourished. Health: decent. Love life: abundant. Party life: probably too abundant. I’ve got a lot going on, and while I certainly could shift my priorities to make time for becoming worldly and political, I always have just hoped things like global news and government would become naturally more appealing as I aged.

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Photo: Noa Azoulay http://www.featherlove.com

Enter Bernie. My friends seem nuts about him. I watch some videos. This guy is consistent. I read some articles. Really consistent. I get invited to a rally. I say yes and then hundreds of people say yes.

Everything about this candidate and the movement surrounding him makes me feel like now is the time to enter this conversation I’d been so long avoiding — been plugging my ears saying lalala (or really, just turning down the volume). Admittedly, I don’t know a lot. I know he uses the phrase, “enough is enough,” he speaks candidly about 1% of the population owning 90% of the wealth, he’s been pro marriage equality for decades, and he’s pretty serious about global climate change.

I’m not worried about not knowing so much, this time. In previous years, I procrastinated filing out my write-in ballot because the task of deciphering so much duplicitous political information daunted me into missing my deadline. I’d have to fill it out on voting day and drive to the ballot box to drop it off anyway. This campaign, I am finding it easy to start early. I’m finding it easy to learn a little bit about Bernie between nights of revelry and nights of Burning Man preparations.

Photo: Noa Azoulay http://www.featherlove.com

Photo: Noa Azoulay http://www.featherlove.com

I’m finding it easy to say yes to political events. The rally was enormous. I have been to the North Park Observatory before and never seen it so full. Luckily, my date beat me there and saved me a seat. My friends were everywhere. Aaron Truax started what he thought would be a bustling shindig for his friends, registered it on the official campaign website, and watched it overtake the original venue. His roommate stood behind a table, selling T-shirts. Our friend Maia Tagami introduced the livecast.

Photo: Noa Azoulay http://www.featherlove.com

Photo: Noa Azoulay http://www.featherlove.com

I am so used to overly-coached, well trained (& well paid) politicians that I wasn’t sure if Sanders speaks simply on purpose. His speech reminded me of an assignment I might have been tasked to write in my advanced Poli-Sci class in high school, senior year — an organized, straightforward, no-frills essay. It’s clear he has savvy, that he knows which talking points need to be made. He’s a smart man. But he’s a smart man who cares most about his ideals, cares more about them, I think, than winning.

I care about this too. I care about how his presence in the election will start change. I care about about other politicians adjusting their platforms due to his positive influence. I care about the possibility of his winning, which I really do think is real. Above all, I care about how participating in his campaign will make me a better person.

So yes, I played along with being a part of history by voting for Obama two seasons ago. Yes, I have always half-ass encouraged my friends to register and vote. This time, however, will be the first time I really get involved. Maybe it could be your first time too.

I’ll be at West Coast Tavern to watch the GOP debate with friends, join us!

http://www.redbubble.com/people/berniesanders16

Facebook: a Foggy Intersection of the Personal vs Political

I don't really know how to choose a picture for a post like this, so here's a selfie.

I don’t really know how to choose a picture for a post like this, so here’s a selfie. Like an author byline pic or something.

On Facebook you might make a personal statement to discuss as friends often do. You may not expect the vitriol, the name-calling, the war of opposing linked articles. Some people take themselves way too seriously.

On Facebook you might publish an important political or philosophical thought. You may not expect the sophomoric joking, the name-calling, or even disappointing silence. Some people just seem to stumble into fires without realizing how much their ignorance hurts others.

Facebook is a paradoxical scrapbook bulletin. Is it a self-help message board, or a public debate forum? Friends and strangers eavesdrop on conversations which only seem private. Yes, there is a difference between a personal and a political statement, but to “post” either makes it visible to an ever-more difficult to filter list of viewers.

The mixed-message, or even missing, interface metaphors don’t help either. In this serious debate we can “like” with a cheeky thumb. In this string of jokes no one can hear the timbre of our laugh, our indecipherable (are you being sarcastic??) “LOL.” This flexibility can lead to gibberish.

What I see is a stream of consciousness. What I see is a reflection of my own thought process, the way ideas snag each other, the way I flit from a picture memory of wearing Charmander pajamas at last night’s party to the Atlantic article on protesting in Baltimore.

But it is so political to “share.” Leveraging your private thoughts onto others is a political act:  a decision by the few (or one) on which content should be consumed by the many. “But I was just thinking out loud.” If you don’t want to be held to your word, then why say it at all? I could try to end the argument there, but I’d be a hypocrite. Sure, my personal Facebook philosophy is “make it interesting or funny, or else don’t bother.” But I’m an out-loud thinker in life. And I have so many avenues to be heard, which others might not.

Oh Facebook “friends.” We are apparently not all chums who know each other. We have different backgrounds and needs. You let me glance your wedding photos, and that is perhaps how I mistake our intimacy. But I can only keep your name with your face because everything is so efficiently indexed and hyperlinked.

As with most things, I return to the analogy of a party. There are strangers here just as there are best friends. Not all of us are interested in drinking. Not all of us are interested in sex. Not all of us are interested in laughing. Some may debate our constitutional rights. Some may cry over ex girlfriends. Some may write what they see in tiny notebooks. We all seem to want something. In this wild collage, this rowdy jumble, this grasp at boredom’s death, we might find it.

Or just avoid getting any work done ;)

Responsible Friendshipping: Inclusion v. Exclusion

There are a lot of words in this post, so I will break them up with pictures of cats.

There are a lot of words in this post, so I will break them up with pictures of  my roommate’s cats.

I have the great fortune to have some influence on my social space(s). By blogging and participating in a lot of group conversations, I think I’ve tricked my friends into thinking I have a good moral compass. My primary externally-assigned adjective is migrating from “redhead” to “thoughtful.” Well, let me invite you into more of my thoughts, because I’m loving this.

This year, especially, I am deciding what to do with my influence. I’ve always liked to think of myself as an enabler, but perhaps now I’m really interested in “directed enabling.” Or, you know, leading.

Recently I’ve gotten myself into a situation where I have a space and the agency to throw my own parties, so that’s added immediacy to my Responsible Friendshipping goals. I get to say who comes to the party and what the theme is! I’m also interested, however, in the bigger picture. Am I helping my friends move in a healthy direction in their communities?

IMAG0276(1)My main issue right now: Inclusion v. Exclusion. Practically speaking, this is a result of figuring out how to maximize needs fulfillment. For parties, that need is primarily “fun.” For friendshipping, that need is feeling like you’re not all alone in the universe (sad face). On the inclusion axis are motivations to demonstrate to community members why they are included and why their inclusion is guaranteed. On the exclusion axis are motivations to just be damn efficient and not waste time supporting members who are really just going to bollocks up everything for everyone (or just be really boring).

The failure I’m seeing in my friend group right now is buying into the idea that gatekeeping (exclusion) also successfully supports safety. I get why they’re doing it, and it took me a long time before I stopped thinking this was the best idea. Keep the baddies out, welcome the goodies in, right? Anecdotally, it’s actually true that this strategy didn’t work (a long time friend hurt a lot of people, not some stranger), and yet we kept using it.

Kitteh says: don't exclude me I luffs youThe converse is not easy, either. Opposite of gatekeeping, you can promote safety with behavior policing. I mean, that’s how mainstream society does it — you know you can’t hurt people because the law will hurt you back, harder. Unfortunately, this strategy requires a lot of difficult things that we’re ideologically opposed to doing. We don’t want to dial-down a list of accepted behaviors, we don’t want to be tasked with enforcing these behaviors, we don’t want to create laws. Sure, if we could do those things, then we could know we are technically safe despite any member who might come or go. But we’re rebels! We’re lawless!

Behavior policing doesn’t have to be done with laws; it can be done with culture. Case-study: my dirtpunk/goth friends manage an open-door policy, for their parties at least, by cultivating a particular vibe. Their hard edge intimidates away the people who really probably shouldn’t roll with them, while reminding members there is a real threat for people who misbehave. (Misbehave is a relative term, as a fair amount of trainwrecking is tolerated. I mean, there’s a reason the sink is always stacked with dishes.) The benefit is that no one is sweating over if they got the invite (besides people who are intentionally banned) — they instead make the decision based on their own evaluation of whether or not they really belong. Of course, self-reliance is heavily required to survive in this kind of environment.

IMAG0271My core friends have been instead operating their friendship collective as a sort of “romantic relationship.” You choose the right person, you trust them to benefit you and you return the favor. And you do NOT need to invite the public into your private relationship space.

I’ve seen some good moves towards developing a healthy micro-culture in this context, but a lot of these efforts have been co-opted by the “relationship insecurities” in such an exclusive group. People are worried the friend-blob doesn’t find them sexy anymore, instead of knowing the friend-blob treats all people equally (doling out rewards and punishments for behaviors as needed).

There’s a loss of autonomy in this arrangement. I think we’re exceptionally inter-dependent. Decisions become bogged down by the requirement of having consensus with the rest of our relationship-organism. Some of this is exciting and good, but I think it stops recognizing the discrete individuals who make up our membership body (beyond their worthiness as members). Sometimes it feels like I’m in a cult, you know?

So, I think what I want to do is help my friends know there are more ways to curate the direction their friendships are headed than just maintaining a really sweet guest list. I want them to understand that they can grow a core group of friends and behaviors that will prepare us for multiple environments, and carry us through multiple adventures. Let’s let down the walls a little, and let people and new ideas pass through our kingdoms.

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I Really Liked Jury Duty is There Something Wrong With Me?

jury duty juror badgeYou may have noticed I missed my posting deadline this week (if not, I have awkwardly pointed it out now, yw). Forgive me, I had JURY DUTYYYYY.

I first got my summons about, I don’t know, April. A friend of mine suggested I could throw it away — that if the government doesn’t directly hand me the letter, they can’t prove I actually got it. That reasoning was not enough to assuage my anxiety (ignored things never simply go away when you are paranoid like me), and also a case in the Federal Court sounded really important and potentially very interesting. I followed the instructions, which I don’t even remember now, and expected to get a followup.

Well, I never got that second letter. Likely it got buried under other mail, thrown out by someone else, or I missed it in some way. I mean, letters? In envelopes? With stamps? The only time I care about such things is when I’m expecting a love letter from San Francisco <3

Oh, also, I was probably at Burning Man.

One of the days I happened to answer the phone, a reasonably flustered federal employee asked, in kinder words, WTF happened Samantha? She let me postpone my service ’til December and I promised to pay attention to the mail this time.

I did but… I forgot to call in. They called me! Awesome. Call Sunday night, they said. So I did. Show up downtown tomorrow at 7:30am, the robot said.

WHAAAAAAAT??

Jury duty made me miss my fun date to the Birch Aquarium so I sent her snapchats of "fish" all day.

Jury duty made me miss my fun date to the Birch Aquarium so I sent her snapchats of “fish” all day.

I fell asleep planning my excuses. I’m an independent contractor: I won’t be reimbursed and jury duty will make me broke (um well not really but, they don’t need to know what a diligent money saver I am and how I can easily afford time off of work). I refreshed my memory on Jury Nullification, because previous research and life experience shows that if you hint that you disagree with the law itself, the judge and/or the attorneys will keep your butt off the jury bench. Don’t believe corporations are people (and don’t want to serve)? Mention it in voire dire.

During voire dire, I was surprised in reverent awe by just how much truth my fellow potential jurors chose to share. Several had experienced or witnessed trauma related to issues in the case, and could not honestly be impartial. Microphone in hand, many of them were moved to emotion. Others had truly difficult living circumstances that would be dire to disrupt by going to court every day. The judge was empathetic, and dismissed nearly all of them. People are fucking amazing, I thought. When it was my turn to speak, my desire to shirk jury duty seemed petty and I only told the truth.

Of course, service was not 100% solemn. I thought of us as the “slacker jury,” because a lot of us had similar stories of forgetting to respond to letters or postponing service as long as possible. December seemed like the month for total flakes. (Heh, snow flakes. Ok shut up not funny..) We laughed, judge included, at least once during the trial, and lots in the deliberation room. Still, we argued earnestly over the verdict, which we knew would seriously affect the defendant’s life.

THE CASE: Now that it’s over, I can share as many juicy details as I like. Our defendant, a Mexican national, was caught crossing the border with several pounds of crystal meth in his car, disguised as various automotive fluids and a bottle of tea. During the case, he would be treated the same as an American citizen. We had to determine if he knew about the drugs, or if, as he described the day he was caught, he was haplessly duped by a new acquaintance of his named Chael.

DUuuuuuudddeee Chael was a shadyyyy trickster. He spoke spanish with an interpreter, which meant he wasn’t as quickly interrupted as english-speaking witnesses when he totally tried to bullshit everybody. I mean, though he had special immunity for his testimony, he did not seem capable of telling the truth. Even the prosecuting attorney was getting IRRITATED as a wasp stuck in a bikini because he couldn’t get him to answer nearly any question in a straightforward way.

And the prosecuting attorney was kind of adorable. He was soft-spoken, kept messing up what he was saying, and one time didn’t have his notes for a particular witness. “Uh, I’d like to request a sidebar..” he said when he realized he didn’t have them, “It’s kind of embarrassing…” During his opening and closing arguments, he belabored the analogy that circumstantial evidence is like catching a kid with cookie crumbs on his mouth and inferring he stole treats from the cookie jar. Ok, yes, I get it but there were not enough cookie crumbs to convince me. Or like, any.

Edson dorantes notesYou see why I was having fun? This is like a dramatic performance. I got super excited when the dingball canine officer was nervously jiggling his feet during his testimony. I sat forward in my (nearly identical) chair like he did and decided such a jiggle was unnecessary. OMG I’M LIKE THE CSI I CAN TELL HE’S HIDING SOMETHING. I’d already become bored with the fact that he got so thrilled that the “tea” he found (actually, liquified crystal meth) didn’t look like tea to him and obviously thought he was a genius for his discovery. Hello, “white tea” exists and it says blanco on the bottle; you are not not uncovering important clues you are just dumb lucky.

When I got back from lunch, I noticed the canine officer’s involuntary facial tick and realized he’s just a jiggly person, not a liar. Seems I’m not that clever, either. Dammit.

Going into the jury room, I felt fairly certain the defendant was Not Guilty. He just seemed like a dumb kid (like, really, not smart enough to plan a crime) from a small town who got swept up by a richer, more popular friend-of-a-friend who saw the opportunity to trick him into smuggling drugs across the border. The recording made the day of his arrest seemed truthful to me, not like lying. I mean, I thought he might have an inkling that Chael was connected to some illegal stuff, but that this was sort of a “the less you know the better” kind of situation and he was not told about the meth scheme to take place in his own car. I also figured he was too much of a pushover to question Chael. Regardless, I didn’t think the prosecutor had enough evidence of guilt, and it’s “innocence until proven,” right?

Whoa-ho-ho, apparently not. Most of the jurors thought he deserved a guilty sentence! Luckily, there was another holdout like me (I don’t know if I could have done it alone) and we returned a hung jury. We were finally allowed to talk to the attorneys, and I met them outside to give them feedback. I found out after the case that he’d been tried before, and that hung jury had 8 Not Guilty votes and only 4 Guilty ones!!  Oh shit, Edson (that was his name) sorry to scare you like that. Hope there isn’t another trial, but if there is, better luck to you and I hope you can get back to chillin’ at the Tecate beer garden ASAP and be done with jurors like me.

In summary, courts are full of real people with real personalities and your decision as a juror affects real lives. I’d recommend anyone who is summoned to think of it as a meaningful diversion from your daily life, and something that could even make you feel grateful. I thought of it as the most important vacation I took all year.