Friday, February 2, 2007

Appropriation and Authenticity

This is rapidly appearing to be what is now the fourth part of a series. Here are parts one, two, and three.

I got in touch with Mano at The Home and The World to let her know I was using her post (yes, I know, that's what trackbacks are for, but sometimes different blog interfaces don't play together well). She sent a very nice reply, and noted that we were addressing a similar issue from two different viewpoints: mine being really a question about appropriation, and hers being a question about authenticity.

So... I've been thinking, off and on, between rehearsals and going to get my first round of Hepatitis B immunizations and taking my laptop to the local Geek Spot (where it will engender $170 of repairs because some kind of malware attacked my admin system... grrr...) about appropriation and authenticity.

This is a huge question and there's no way I'll be able to handle it all in a single post. If I did, perhaps I could win a Nobel Prize for Awesomeness or something. :)

People appropriate identities for two reasons, as far as I can tell.

The first is so they can learn about the particular identity/role. They adopt the outer semblance of the role and gradually begin to push towards the center, or actuality, of the identity. A child parading through the living room in Mom's high heels and purse becomes a fourteen-year-old getting a pair of heels for a junior high dance becomes an adult woman walking confidently down a busy street. A teenager in Delhi gets a pair of pedal pushers from an older sister and begins to dream about an identity in England and America -- and in a few years finds herself establishing a life there. I put the soundtrack to KANK in my car and sing along to "Rock and Roll Soniye" although the only words I understand are, in fact, "rock and roll soniye."

The other reason people appropriate identities is so they can differentiate themselves from the people around them. They're not interested in developing the role or intermeshing the identity with their own; they're interested in the "look" of the role. Sometimes this develops into something more complex, but often it is left as simple "poseuring." Trust me. I work in a theatre department. I've seen it all.

However, there is another layer if the identity being explored/appropriated belongs to a group of people who have, say, been historically marginalized by another group of people. Does the group of people who was once (or is still) in power have a responsibility to refrain from assuming aspects of the identity of the formerly (or still) marginalized group?

Or does becoming familiar with another culture -- with the mysterious/dangerous "other" -- work towards ending marginalization?

Now. On to authenticity. Mano writes that wearing salwar allows her to express her authentic self, the self that was always present underneath but which became hidden in a culture that did not allow it to be openly displayed. At this point in my life, my wearing salwar is like trying on high heels or pedal pushers -- not presenting authenticity in and of itself, but a reflection of the exploration and growth that I am experiencing at this moment. And yet -- using a more literal definition of authenticity than the cultural theory definition -- this exploration is in fact my authentic self at the moment.

So. That's all I've got. I'll keep thinking about this.

(Edit: And on to part five...)

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