Thursday, January 14, 2010


RE. Lady Luck
From a person of colour, present at last weeks lady luck performance.
Appropriation is everywhere and an inevitable part of art and performance, of culture, identity and movements. Ideas circulate, people work off each other and everyone is highly affected by the information that they are exposed to, and the circumstances, perspective and display of that information. The difference is, some are forced to be aware, and some aren’t. The construction of our society is racist; it serves white people and establishment of ingrained racism, to preserve white privilege through cultural ideas. Multiculturalism is a product of the system in which to make racism ok, it supports the stealing of culture. These ideas and appropriation of race are prevalent in performance. What matters is who does the appropriation, what context it appears in and the traits and underlying messages that are displayed. What matters is the history of that particular type of appropriation, the circumstances, the reasons in which that appropriation was undertaken and the results of that.

A Japanese teen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a big American company is not the same as Madonna sporting a bindii as part of her latest reinvention. European, White, Caucasian, has the power, privilege and glory in its history. Asian, African, Indigenous people have the exploitation, slavery, genocide and shame in their history. The cultural appropriation by white people of other cultures has existed, ever since white people found other cultures it seems. The appropriation began as a way of control, power, and wealth, using a tool of insult. In 1441, in Portugal they invented black face; it presented white people with black make up on depicting African features as grotesque. Black face, is alive and well in Australia.

Appropriation hasn’t been a burden on the white community, as it has people of colour communities. A lot of white people appropriate people of colour on a daily basis, because it has become so normalised and seemingly an intrinsic part of their personality, and identity, as white people “acting like black people”. A modern popular difference is that instead of the performance used as an insult, it is now cool, hot, sexy, and stylish to display black culture or traits. This is still not ok, it’s objectifying. Now as a lack of culture and community white people gravitate towards black peoples culture as something to latch onto, at despair of their own identities, which have been long lost and not recreated. Mixed identities and mixed race people also have to be careful in cultural appropriation, and even if ethnic backgrounds exist but are not visually definable in a performer, some form of acknowledgment has to take place, because an audience works, perceives on what it can see and hear, on face values.

People of colour have been studied by white people, whites have then asserted they have gained knowledge from those people, that they know their culture and that then have the power to recreate, perform and appropriate what they see. They have stolen culture, capitalised on culture. White people have in no way the right to do that, the knowledge is not complete or consensual, have in no way the sacred rite to perform a cultural ceremony, or re-enactment of that. There is a history of cultural, and spiritual performance, being appropriated into a sexualised display of exotica. Take the “hula” for example, a traditional Hawaiian dance. When Europeans colonised Hawaii, and came into contact with Hawaiian culture they perceived the women as sexually promiscuous because of their movements in the “Hula” dance. The hula dance is performed to show respect, and to honour the Hawaiian gods. For Hawaiian performers to make a mistake is disrespectful, for whites to interpret the “Hula” and recreate it without any form of spiritual understanding or respect, must be highly disrespectful.

This in turn is the breakdown and loss of culture, if its not respected, its broken, lost and forgotten, language, art, performance and tradition are disappearing every day.

One performance in particular I thought represented some of the negative elements of cultural appropriation I just discussed. Including the exotification, sexualisation of an unidentified non-white culture by a white appearing performer. Without recognition, acknowledgment or paid respects to what it was referencing, re-enacting or recreating. Without explanation of self-involvement, ancestral history to which the performer had entitlement. To me and my people of colour friends and some allies, we found the performance disrespectful and racist.

This is not intended as a personal insult, or an attack. It only seeks to create more awareness, and acknowledgment and respect, in the performing arts community, and wider community. I am willing to receive a response, and to continue discussion.


  1. good points. People are racist. There are not many people out there who will question their ingrained racism above their ego/own agenda/etc. it is always good to pull people up and question their motives.

    I found this a little problematic:
    "Mixed identities and mixed race people also have to be careful in cultural appropriation, and even if ethnic backgrounds exist but are not visually definable in a performer, some form of acknowledgment has to take place, because an audience works, perceives on what it can see and hear, on face values."

    I get your point, but really if someone is not the stereotypical image of a race then I think they really don't need to explain their physical appearance to a racist audience.

    for example;

    'I am Indigenous, but my people where raped, so I have lighter skin.'
    do you get my drift? 'Mixed' raced as you call it, is extremely general and would cover 99.99% of people.

    I think your points on cultural appropriation are totally valid.

  2. hi fern,

    I realise that the term mixed race is fundmentally problematic, because race as a category is a tool of oppression, division, and separation. and mixed, or half caste, mulatto, and all the other terminology used to describe people, has a lot of negative connatations and history behind them. i think these terms are mostly bullshit because as you say yes everyone in the post post colionial world, is 99.99 per cent mixed, its totally true.

    yeah i guess what i propose is a new idea and isnt really developed completely. But what i think i mean is that, the person doesnt have to make a statement such as the example you gave, that is really extreme.( Not that it isnt completely valid for some one to say that if they want to) what i mean is that a performance or representation that has some kind of cultural elements to it has a CONTEXT or history behind it, in whatever shape or form.

    because for example. if i saw a light skinned blonde guy playing the digerridoo at flinders street station wearing hippie clothes, busking, I'am definatley going to be suspicious. Even if he is indegenous. People work on what they can see. And identity is huge issue i realise, and people who are light skinned but identify as "non-white" have a lot of hardships in their life, in being recognised for who they are.

    i guess in my idea of trying to create more onto it and respectful displays of cultural appropriation, for white people to not get away with so much wack stuff. may be oppressive to light skinned "non-white" identifying people that have to in the absence of obvious race classification, that has been ingrained into us all, assert their identity.

  3. i think context is always important and creates something more meaningful.

    i think cultural theft is real

    and for me, i find it almost unaviodable(not that im playing the didge at flinder st, but i still have alot of other shit going on so its all the same isnt it)......... i agree with the ideas of acknowlegement of appropriation, i think its important, and its like you know....its showing respect and giving props to tha true originators of the cool shit not like pretending some dumb white cunt from 2010 invented the art, jewelry, music etc that they rippin the style of.

  4. There is never an ok time or excuses to 'rip off' someone's cultural life and call it art. I don't think this is anything to do with skin color or racial steriotypes.

    For example: You are not indigenous, however, you decide you want to use ocha and make art with it. You display your work, with or without a 'cultural disclaimer.' You have been unwittingly culturally inappropriate. However, you could also be indigenous in this case and still be inappropriate.
    The only way you are NOT going to be ripping something off and risk being a stupid artist/culture thief is by learning carefully and respectfully and then working in collaboration with people who are cultural knowledge holders and respect this.

    If you judge someone who is busking with a dige, OK, but maybe you need to think about why you are assuming that person is not culturally versed or permissable to be doing their thing...
    I can guarantee that most people organise events and travel from place to place and do not follow cultural protocals in respect of local original sovereign people... so lets not be too quick to jump on our high horses.

    Better to work at becoming culturally respectful ourselves, because we have much to learn, no matter what our skin color.

    If we decide that a person with black/white/lighter/whatever skin must have a particular knowledge base, we are just being racist. However good our intentions maybe.