What would it take to end cultural appropriation?

By the world’s biggest asshole

Everyone is going to say I’m a horrible person for bringing this up, but I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural appropriation lately. Like, the concept of cultural appropriation is really freaking weird. Like, it means you have to look at yourself and everyone in the world as if we are all always pawns in power games, as if we never get to be just people, as if everything you say or do should always ever be evaluated in terms of its relation to theories about huge power structures over which we have no control as individuals. It’s a very cosmopolitan way of talking about things. Very neoliberal way. And sure, it’s not wrong, the idea of cultural appropriation, at least not wrong within it’s own logic, a logic which, it seems, views the social reality as if through a telescope from a planet far, far away.

Like the rule of “Thou shalt not culturally appropriate” has a sort of Prime Directive feel to it, and it isn’t hard to imagine Mr. Spock on Star Trek saying “Captain, wearing that traditional head fwap from the planet Beta Centauri Seven is in direct violation of the Secondary Directive which states—” To which Starbuck responds by saying, “Shut up, I’m on to something here…and if I don’t work this shit out it’s go to kill me.” And knowing Starbuck, she probably then punches Spock in the nose. What an asshole she is!

It’s awful to be torn between not wanting to further hurt groups of people who have had everything torn from them by this empire and yet feeling drawn to the beautiful music, art, and food that these groups somehow haven’t let the empire beat out of them.

Like, the empire took everything from these people. Fucking everything. Like, in the case of indigenous Americans, these are people who were driven off their ancestral land and subjected to mass genocide and shoved onto horrific reservation death camps where they had to get permission to leave and weren’t allow to practice their tribal religions until 1967. And for African Americans, these folks were fucking kidnapped from their homes and turned into commodities and were subjected to rape and torture and being treated like cattle and having their children sold in auctions. You want to read some really heartbreaking stuff? Read the newspaper announcements from just after the 13th Amendment was passed by all the Black folks desperately looking for children and parents that got sold away from them. And then there’s the continued level of terror people in these groups have been subjected to. It is just obscene. From everything to racist cops murdering brown and Black people for so much as looking at them funny, to the white riots and fucking lynch mobs that enacted a holocaust against Black people throughout the first half of the 20th century, to the way the California Indians were bounty-hunted and enslaved, and many native families around here had to use special blankets to transform themselves into rocks and hide in the hills that way for years at a time (please read Benjamin Madley’s American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 if you haven’t already). And there is the fact that here in Berkeley, the Campanile, that giant tower over the university, and also the basement of the Anthropology Library are filled with the bones of over 10,000 murdered California Indians, some of whom were killed as late as the 1920s by lunatic white serial killers who fancied themselves “cowboys” and because of racism, society congratulated them for it.

These horrors are real and the trauma lingers amongst all these people who carry inside them unspeakable pain that grew from unspeakable acts. To just offhandedly grab the few things they have that are still theirs, even if it’s just a song or a headdress, and to treat it like it’s mine—that is an act of horrific ignorance.

And yet… I still get these urges to listen to rock and rock music, which, as one Slingshot member has pointed out, is all inspired by the music of African slaves so maybe we should all stop listening to it and only listen to music made by people who have the same genetic make up as us, and she suggested I listen to Albanian music, even though I’m ancestrally Danish, but oh well. And others in my extended community have claimed you shouldn’t eat corn or plantains if you’re white. I’m willing to give up corn, but to give up caramelized plantains covered in salt on a Saturday morning? Will that really help anyone? Will it really? Also, in Poland, people have worn dreadlocks for hundreds of years. Does that mean it is okay for my old housemate, whose grandparents were Polish to have dreadlocks? Everyone else thought so once she explained, which is really fucked up because Black people find that their natural hair is banned from many places of work in this country, especially government-run places, forcing them to use harsh chemical relaxers that can really damage your body. My old roommate’s “traditional polish deadlocks” weren’t her natural hair, she really had to work to get that knappy, greasy rats nest going, and for her to get to wear her hair like that and still have a job was a slap in the face to those whose natural hair does that sort of thing (but prettier) but who can’t wear that hair due to racism. I mean, a lot of these arguments I keep hearing from white people about how we shouldn’t do cultural appropriation sound creepily a lot like eugenics. Like a genetic ghettoization of culture. That is literally what we are doing by going this route.

But sometimes it goes beyond your genes. Once I had a white housemate ask to see my tribal nation ID because I was burning sage and I mumbled something about my Cherokee and Sioux ancestry. But apparently, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got the genes because you have to be a federally-registered card-carrying tribe member to burn sage, at least according to some people who are eager to set up an impromptu cultural appropriation check-point any chance they can get. What’s messed up about this particular tactic is that it is disrespectful of that fact that hundreds of tribes in the US lack federal recognition, largely due to bureaucratic laziness, and this means they don’t get to be card-carrying federally recognized tribe members. This includes the brown people upon whose land the city of Los Angeles now stands, the Winnemem Wintu, and the Ohlone, upon whose land we make the Slingshot newspaper.

As I watch all of these heated screaming matches about cultural appropriation go down in radical community, I find myself bothered by a horrible, asshole-ish question:

Could it be that our frenzied obsession with cultural appropriation right now is actually a way to let white people off of the hook for the larger thing at stake here: reparations?

If white people were on an equal economic and interpersonal playing field with folks of color, cultural appropriation wouldn’t be a thing. Like, it’s fine to wear green and talk with a fake Irish accent on St. Patty’s day because the Irish Americans, collectively, are now fine. Of course, if you look back into the history of Irish-American immigrants, you’ll find this wild era of the racial discrimination that Irish people experienced in the early 20th century here, when they first came to this country to escape a capitalism-contrived famine. Like, American employers hung “No Irish need apply” signs in their windows, and there were racial slurs about the Irish, and horrible things that happened to Irish folks walking alone in the streets. It was only through the ability of Irish people to pass as white within a generation that, as a group, they were able to get ahead.

How can we overcome the propensity among “whites” to share their wealth and network only with other “whites”? Maybe we need to figure out how to get rid of whiteness as a category, and this is something that can only be done if we start listening, really listening to people of color. I’m not talking about listening to their music or mimicking what they do. I’m talking about really listening. To reach out as people, rather than grabbing capitalist commodities that have been labeled as “Black” or “native.” It is through really listening and being in community together that we can break down the arbitrary things of “whiteness” / “not whiteness” that keep us all in chains.

If you have lots of extra cash due to systemic oppression, how about using it to support amazing projects that literally lend power to communities of color? Like supporting African American ownership of cooperative farmland through projects like The Federation of Southern Cooperatives (federationsoutherncoop.com). Or if you live on Ohlone land, you may give “shuumi” or a financial offering to help make up for the fact the feds have failed to grant them land of their own (sogoreate-landtrust.com/shuumi-land-tax/). Or you can support the Winnemem Wintu’s project to restore their ancestral salmon (facebook.com/run4salmon). Or there’s like a million other ways you can financially support the people who have been systemically hurt by the structure of power that gave you your money.

If those with power can strategically help folks of color get on the same playing field as whites, we’ll have a type of equality in this land that we have never yet known. But until we are on equal footing, cultural appropriation will continue to be a thing. And instead of getting to playfully borrow things from these cultures, we will continue to find that, what to one person seems like just silly borrowing of a song or headdress, cuts another person to the bone.

Once we’re truly equal, and everyone, no matter what color their skin, has the same access to food, clean water, emotional care, civic determination, and quality education—once we achieve that, we won’t need the concept of cultural appropriation anymore.

Mother Martyr / Motherfucker

By Amanda Thomas

Earlier this year, I began my Artist’s Residency in Motherhood, and connecting with other mothers in residency at the same time has led to a lot of reflection on the role and status of mothers within creative and alternative circles. One thing I’ve noticed about the group is that most of the women in it are supported by a partner. They struggle enough to find time to create and to be recognized in a white cis male field and world (and a lot of them are making some really biting, powerful stuff about motherhood!), but being a single parent, I find that there is an added layer to the level of difficulty I face in pursuing my work. Single motherhood, despite being such a common, prevalent occurrence, is a topic that often goes unexplored both in the dominant cultural narrative and in creative and activist circles. We are a largely impoverished group of people, and our position should be examined more often in discussions of social justice and building community. I want to start off this article with a short list of statistics:

-There are nearly 12 million single parent families in the United States; 83% of those are headed by single mothers.

-In 2011, while only 8% of married couples with children lived in poverty (and only 24% of single father households), a full 43% of single mothers lived below the poverty line.

-The median adjusted income for a three person household headed by a mother is $26,000, as compared to $40,000 annually for single father households, and $70,000 for households headed by married parents.

-41% of single fathers have a cohabitating partner [who ostensibly is supportive with childcare, financial support, etc.], versus only 16% of single mothers.

-The national average of the annual cost of child care at a center averages over 40% of the median income of a single mother for an infant, and 32% for a school aged child.

-Two thirds of single mothers receive no child support.

As you can see, financially, the situation for a single mother in the United States is pretty bleak, if easily quantifiable. (Side note: these statistics are for full-time single parents, not people with joint custody arrangements.) I hate to reduce the problem to numbers based on a capitalist ideology, but the reality is that it is pretty hard to provide for a child without being entrenched in the capitalist system, and living in poverty with children is a huge struggle. The thing about statistics is they’re not just statistics; behind each number is a profusion of human lives, with so many people’s stories behind it. In this case, that includes mine.

I realized I was pregnant right after my 22nd birthday. A confused child myself, I made a decision that I was not ready to make, but had to make anyway. Despite all the promises, my son’s biological father left before my child was ever born, and was never meaningfully involved in his life. The paltry $53 a month in child support that I was awarded rarely gets paid. Last year, for instance, I received only $100.

Just before my son turned 2, I tentatively welcomed a new partner into my world. After about 4 ½ years of being hugely, deeply involved in our lives, he, too, walked away, deciding his dreams of being a wandering punk and starting a band in the city were more important than the child who told everyone this was his “real dad.” To this day, over a year after he began drifting out of our lives, my son still refers to him as his real dad, and struggles deeply with the abandonment and absence.

I am a passionate and creative person: an artist, a musician, an activist. I have so much potential and determination within me, but, as it is with most single parents, I have literally only a handful of hours a week to spend on anything outside of the endless deluge of work, school, meal preparation, housecleaning, laundry, appointments, bills, the kid’s homework, and just BEING THERE and being present with my child. It is not easy. It is beyond not easy. When I am exhausted and overwhelmed and depressed and sick, I still have to pull myself up at 6 am to get my kid ready for school. I still have to wake up at 3 am if he’s having a nightmare and be emotionally available for that. I still have to remain patient and be as much of a shining example of humanity as I can possibly muster.

It is literally impossible for one person to wear all of these hats and do as good of a job as they want to do at any of it. It is even more impossible to fulfill all those roles and have the opportunity to meaningfully pursue one’s interests and one’s own dreams. This is the reality: behind every father figure who has left to do something else, there is a mother bearing the burden and having to sacrifice or postpone a lot of her own dreams. The father figure’s chosen path in life is only possible at a mother’s expense.

It’s beyond time to shed the old idea of children being a “woman’s responsibility.” It is long past time for fathers (biological and otherwise) to know that they are expected to stay and put in real effort, and that a child is a lifetime commitment that one does not back out of. It’s time for them to know that they are equally responsible, and time for fathers to care for their children with the willingness, dedication and grace they deserve. This pattern of child-rearing being placed on the mother’s shoulders is, of course, also present in cis/hetero/two-parent nuclear families, but the single mother is the penultimate example. We are literally doing everything, inside of an often painful and isolating existence. It’s also time we remember that children are the future adults of the world, and it should be a cohesive, community effort to ensure they’re getting the guidance and support they need to create a future that’s worth living in.

If there are nearly 10 million single mothers in the United States, think of the massive potential, brilliance, inspiration, and creative force we are all missing out on because all these people with a valuable perspective are struggling, largely alone, to survive in this culture while carrying the next generation on their backs. We are depriving ourselves as a society by ensuring so many people are perpetually too overwhelmed to explore and contribute in the ways they wish they could.

It’s time to make sure we don’t lose that potential. If you are part of an artistic or activist group, do your best to facilitate parents, especially single parents. Can your event, meeting, group, or space accommodate children? If not, perhaps you could consider providing quality childcare so parents can still attend. A group that meets regularly could have members take turns being with the children. There are a lot of solutions and options that take just a little imagination, a bit of effort, and a sliver of compromise. Not only is childcare exorbitantly expensive, it’s also incredibly discouraging to be unable to join a group due to the inability to obtain childcare. It makes it hard to feel welcome when the support doesn’t exist for a person to be involved. Having this kind of support is often the difference between someone being able to be involved in activist group, or pursue their art form, and them being isolated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done things like feel bad that I can’t go to a protest or art/music event due to not having childcare, or dragged my kid along to an art opening or a “community presentation” and been shamed for being the annoying parent with the loud, obnoxious kid. It feels terrible, and certainly doesn’t encourage me to get involved.

Do you personally know any single parents? Offer them direct help. Not just “If you need a babysitter sometime, let me know.” Develop a real relationship with your friends’ kids and make specific offers like, “I’m free on Saturday and can come over at 7 and spend time with (insert child’s name here) for the night. You should go out and do something if you’d like to. There’s going to be this event here at this time if you’re interested in that.” Visit them at home; sometimes it’s just too much work to drag kids around to places. When you visit, quietly do small things to make their lives easier: wipe the bathroom counter, wash a few dishes, read the child(ren) a book. The societal pressure to be unremittingly self-sufficient is compounded here with the cultural expectations of mothers that lead them to feel guilty about doing things for themselves, so don’t even leave them the burden of having to ask,. They probably won’t ask for help with childcare with anything other than a doctor’s appointment or some other obligation or necessity.

When my partner was thinking of leaving us, he had people advising him that he shouldn’t think twice or care because it wasn’t his biological kid – never mind the fact that my child told everyone he was his real father, never mind that he admired and looked up to and loved and needed him, deeply. My son’s biological father, also, continues on in his artistic circles with no repercussions for the abandonment of his child. People have even defended him to me, and say he’s a “good guy.” I’m tired of hearing it, and I’m tired of looking around and seeing so many of my friends who are mothers raising their children alone and unsupported.

Confront men who walk away; don’t let them slide, and definitely don’t defend or encourage them. If a mother leaves her children behind, the social stigma is crushing, as is the guilt. A patriarchal culture dictates that a mother who is not with her children has committed some unforgivable sin and essentially failed as a human being. A patriarchal culture is, at the same time, accepting of an absent father’s justifications for leaving as reasonable and valid, or excusing him for his supposed inability to meaningfully be there for his child(ren). To excuse an absent father is to be complicit in the overburdening of women. Let’s demand equal standards here. Let’s demand equal responsibility. This dynamic will never change if we don’t inisist upon better, and reinforce within our own circles that such behavior is unacceptable. Mothers will continue to carry the future of the world on their shoulders if we don’t start holding fathers accountable for their fair share.

*Please forgive the binary-reinforcing terms in this article. It was relatively impossible to find comparable statistics that didn’t reference “mothers” and “fathers” specifically. I also am speaking to the terms “mother” and “father” as social constructs that need some reexamination instead of as some sort of correct or true default. I am also placing myself under the umbrella of “mother;” even if I don’t entirely align with that word, it is a relevant representation of the dynamics I experience living in this culture. I also want to apologize for not including family structures other than the nuclear family and the single parent. I am not at all trying to invalidate multi-parent families – in fact, I think the more present, supportive parents a child has, the better off they will be.

*The statistics in this article come from the Pew Research Center and the US Census Bureau.

Addendum: This article stimulated an intensely heated debate in the collective. Some thought the article should run exactly as submitted while others felt strongly about asking the author for revisions (most articles get revised). As a compromise, we’re running the article as is and offer this additional note to sum up some of the controversy.

While most of us agree that more childcare (and support of other sorts) for parents (especially single parents!) would be a good thing, the Slingshot collective, and The Long Haul infoshop, don’t offer any childcare services. Both projects limp along on a barebones crew of committed volunteers, a not uncommon predicament for radical projects of all sorts. Calling on others to do something we don’t do ourselves is somewhat hypocritical. And while we all feel strongly about parents taking responsibility for the well being of the children they bring into the world, calling out a boyfriend who fails to do so is a complex and problematic assertion. Some of us critiqued the role of “the artist” as a problematic expression of individualism, an assertion that sent our discussion sideways off a f**king cliff! Whew!!

One thing we all agree on is that we don’t want to cast a shadow on the many parents locked up in the injustice system. We hope you find the article as stimulating as we did!

The anarchy-narcissists

By I Steve

We all know them, all tried to work with them. The one who insists on being the leader. The one who says everyone who criticizes her is a fed. The manipulative male “feminist.” His close cousin, the serial sexual perpetrator who thinks he’s the hero of the story.

They are the narcissists among us. And what is narcissism? “… an excessive need for admiration, disregard for others’ feelings, an inability to handle any criticism, and a sense of entitlement,” says Google.

Last issue of Slingshot, I wrote about the need for all of us to learn a little humility. This issue I’ll discuss a small number of people with a very large impact. This is not intended as a call for or against ostracizing or reeducating such people. Rather, an initial inquiry into a topic we too often ignore or don’t see, and ideas on designing our community projects with the assumption that narcissists are inevitable.

Vocabulary

Narcissist, narcissism, narcissistic behavior, healthy narcissism, narcissistic personality, narcissistic personality disorder. Even among psychological researchers and mental health workers, the words vary in meaning. So to clear for this article:

narcissist (person/personality): Someone who exhibits the behavior above.

narcissistic behavior: The behavior. The distinction is emphasized because some approaches confront the behavior, however consistently or not, without focusing on individuals.

narcissistic personality: Someone who severely and consistently exhibits narcissistic behavior over a lifetime or many years; stronger language than just calling someone a narcissist. Used here as a term for the person as well as the trait.

narcissistic personality disorder: A psychiatric, i.e., quasi-medical term, for a narcissistic personality. While this may apply to any narcissistic personality, here it refers to a person who hopes to be a considerate member of the community with loving relationships but struggles with deeply rooted narcissistic behaviors.

healthy narcissism: A term for narcissistic behaviors at reasonable, functional levels. For clarity I prefer to simply use other terms for this, although the concept may come up. See egoism below.

In this article I use male pronouns for narcissists, because narcissitic personality is more common in men. But by no means exclusive to men; there’s sufficient little Hillarys among us.

Egoism

Egoism is an anarchistic philosophy in which the point of life is to pursue one’s own interest. It’s considered to have started with Max Stirner and is popular with post-left anarchists. While I’m here neither to critique egoism nor to give it free advertising, I do want to distinguish it from narcissism (so post-leftists don’t write “In Praise of Narcissism in response). The two things are in some ways opposite, although on rare occasion a egoist can be a narcissist.

Leading psychoanalysts and new-age psychics1 agree that the root of narcissism is a sense of worthlessness, or a lack of a sense of self altogether. The narcissist personality creates a false grandiose cover self: attractive, heroic, charismatic, a very stable genius. Egoism, on the other hand, actually embraces a sort of radical self-acceptance. The egoist boldly embraces the true desires of their real self, and doesn’t give a shit what you think of their flatulence and acne.

The Impact

What makes the narcissist personality different from others who misbehave is the relentless refusal to change their actions and the rabbit hole of manipulation and games for any who try to work with them on it. For example, consider sexual abuse, one of the most destrutive behaviors in anarchist scenes and the frustrations people experience organizing around it:

“Accountability processes do a lot of good but sometimes they just teach men how to appear unabusive when nothing’s changed but the words coming out of their mouths. Survivors and friends are left wondering if said male is no longer a threat. Eventually the issue recedes from peoples’ minds because they don’t want to seem overly reactionary and don’t know what further steps to even take and the perpetrator is able to continue on in their life without much changing.”

From “Is the Anarchist Man Our Comrade” quoted in Accounting for Ourselves by Crimethinc. The pamphlet goes on to discuss the impact on the community of these stymied efforts: “This stuff depresses people and burns them out,” and “Accountability processes suck up disproportionate time and energy.” All this begs two too often ignored questions:

(1) Why is this happening in activist scenes devoted to the opposite? The stock answer is that “abuse happens in all communities,” but if our values don’t make a difference, what is the point of a feminist community? (2) Why would someone devoted to life-affirming values and a better world not only minimize or deny previous behavior, but actively pursue future behavior under duress?

The answer to both questions may be that radical movements attract narcissist personalities for narcissist reasons. Even if not more numerous than in the general population, their presence and effect is noticeable. To be admired, to be the leader, to lead and exploit naïve sheep. To some degree that’s many of us; a “healthy narcissism” drives us to be like Cesar Chavez or Emma Goldman. The narcissist personality joins to become Stalin or Pol Pot.

Post-authoritarian social movements have been damaged by our own success in a way. When Marxist activism was the norm, and entrenched leadership was considered more functional, narcissist aspired to be great leaders, hoping, like the great communists of the past, to use the scientific principles of socialism to remake the universe according to their own whims. When a narcissist failed in the heroic struggle to be the leader, he became the leader of a new alphabet-soup-group. A leader lucky enough to hit the bigtime was immune to accountability (SWP in Britain)2.

Since the Cold War ended and as anarchy increases in hipness, the narcissists come to our door.

What to do?

Much more has been written about narcissistic personalities in personal relationships than in communities. Do lessons apply? A lot of it is like “Ten Signs He’s a Narcissist” so you can avoid a relationship with that person. The advice is usually intended for someone who’s suffered already in such relationships.

This preemptive exclusion approach won’t work in communities and movements, for many reasons: the scale involved, people with narcissistic personality disorder can change. Some people on the narcissistic spectrum just need to plug into a community to get functional. Besides such people with too much healthy narcissism, many with other situations can be mistaken for narcissists: autistic people, people with complex PTSD, and ADHD.

And, or course, if anyone is ever punished, it must be because of their behavior and not some clever label we put on them. Nor should anyone’s bad behavior be ignored because of an amateur diagnosis.

The other notable aspect of narcissist relationships is the affinity for codependence with narcissists. This is applicable to radical movements. While part of the problem is that narcissists can rely on available forms of institutionalized privilege, the tenaciousness of narcissist personalities in our communities is empowered by a dainty everyone-is-special mentality.

Part of a culture of integrity is a balanced approach to compassion—which usually turns out to be the overall most compassionate approach to compassion. This includes neither attacking or defending anyone based on our own neuroses, the knee-jerk reactions we use to reassure ourselves of our own goodness. Our noble capacities for pity and tolerance can be balanced by the needs of those who don’t need pity and tolerance but do need safety and functionality.

Remembering that a narcissist personality lacks an affirming sense of self. Achieving a stable resiliency from narcissist disruption and devastation, a culture of integrity can focus on how our community can embrace the worth of the true selves of all, becoming a place of healing for people on the narcissist spectrum, regardless of why they came here in the first place.

 

1. James F. Masterson. The Search for the Real Self. The Free Press, 1988.

Teal Swan. “Narcissism.” Youtube.

 

2. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/mar/09/socialist-workers-party-rape-kangaroo-court

Nicaragua

Updated: August 22, 2018

La Rizoma
Colonia Miguel Bonilla #129, Del Bar Esquina Fiel 3 Cuadras al Sur, Media Cuadra Arriba, Managua, Nicaragua (DEACTIVATED – MAY OR MAY NOT BE BACK IN A FEW MONTHS)

Slovenia

Updated:  June 19, 2020

A Infoshop
AKC Metelkova, Masarykova ulica 24, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

AKC Sokolc
Sokolska ulica 3, 8000 Novo mesto, Slovenia

Avtonomna Tovarna Rog
Trubarjeva cesta 72, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

MC Pekarna (AGD Gustaf)
Ob železnici 16, 2000 Maribor, Slovenia, 003862 320 20 18

Mikk Murska Sobota
Trubarjev drevored 4, 9000 Murska Sobota, Slovenia 00 386 2 534 9890

MKNŽ Ilirska Bistrica
Bazoviška 26, 6250 Ilirska Bistrica, Slovenia, 00386 5 71 42 666

Trainstation SubArt Squat
Kolodvorska cesta 8, 4000 Kranj, Slovenia, 003864 294 41 34

DEFUNCT SPACES:

DEFUNCT:  INDE Ulica 15. Maja 6, 6000 Koper, Slovenia