A DECULTURED HYBRID “OTHER” LIVING IN A EURO-CENTRIC, HEGEMONIC SOCIETY INFUSED WITH ASPECTS OF SYNERGY AND TRANSCULTURATION
“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Ignore the Iggy Azalea’s of the World”
Written by: Dom
I cannot help but laugh mockingly at myself as I begin, largely because I distinctly remember once holding great disdain for having to memorize these very terms, which I at the time found inanely superfluous. I recall challenging that these postcolonial and cultural studies courses depended too much on terminology that was overly rhetorical and only served the purpose of providing self-satisfactory pleasure in quibbling over nuance. Cultural Studies is an area of academia perfect for those individuals who believe that it is satisfactory to undermine an entire person’s argument based on their incorrect use of a term that is really only two shades different than the term they will present to you as the more accurate one.
Alas, here I am though… in the very shade of these terms I found so tediously redundant. Funnier still is that I tend to express myself with the same excessive wordiness and I can see that that is probably because I spend much of my own contemplative time in that similarly intractable gray-hued shade.
Lately, I have realized that almost every facet of my conscious experiences are and therein likely have been tinged with the quandaries of post-colonialism. I say “conscious experiences” because at no other point in my life have I been able to look at what I see around me, which includes seeing people see me, and be able to comfortably rationalize the thought pattern behind, for instance, an absurd music video or the terribly offensive dialogue in a movie or the strange perplexed look in someone’s eyes when they see me or my best friend. Why the need for “comfortable rationalization”? Well, before this I tended to take things far too personally, particularly as an indictment of myself, and also because this is the upgrade I needed in order to continue to protect innocent idiots and the not so innocent idiots from my violent predisposition to “smack sense” and bring the “boot of doom” to asses everywhere. You are all welcome, by the way.
What encouraged this, you may wonder? Two fucking doses of Iggy Azalea.
Now, to be clear, my use of profanity is not because I harbour any personal or negative feelings towards Amethyst Amelia Kelly, also known as Iggy Azalea. Honestly, I like her flow and it’s golden almost precisely because one could listen to her rap complete, utter nonsense whilst being entranced by her voice, her tones, and her delivery. Nevertheless, as I was saying, I do not know her, I cannot presume to actually know her thought pattern, nor do I feel that she is the blue-eyed soul-sucking devil incarnate. In fact, I don’t even think she has blue eyes; it’s more of an expression… much the same way that Iggy Azalea functions as an expression of the problematic dalliances between cultural appropriation and synergy that have been waltzing through my grey matter of late.
My understanding of the terms “cultural appropriation”, “synergy” and so forth, I owe to Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. And if you click the link, the handy excerpt reads “This best selling key guide, now in its second edition, provides an essential key to understanding the issues which characterize post-colonialism; explaining what it is, where it is encountered and why it is crucial in forging new cultural identities. As a subject, post-colonial studies stands at the intersection of debates about race, colonialism, gender, politics and language.” The bolded sections of this excerpt essentially encapsulate my “eureka” moment where practical, everyday application of post-colonial discourse in my life is concerned. First generation Canadian, check. Family immigrated from a former colony, check, to another former colony, check-check. Female, check. Of Afro-descent, check. Attachment to a language or mode of expression that is not from Canada, check.
And so, while I waltzed through my thoughts about Iggy Azalea’s alleged comments regarding the use of the N-word , her apology for that “I’m a runaway slave / master” line and her recent music video, Bounce, I realized that yes, “new cultural identities” are clearly being formed because… really, what the fuck is this shit if not some product of transculturation or maybe even transcultural shared experience?
As I recall, transculturation is rooted in the “phenomenon of the contact zone”, whereby cultural practices and various means of representation (of culture) coalesce … into … blue-eyed soul-sucking devils? I kid! But seriously, this concept is a beacon in the dim grey landscape of my mind. Places like Canada are prime examples of “contact zones” where various cultures come into “contact” with one and other, producing new hybrid ways of “being” that make those tired black/white binaries even more tedious than studying post-colonialism.
A very comfortable rationalization, indeed; however, it does not end there because power and privilege distort what subsequently emerges as sufficient (and I argue respectful) representation of (a) culture. Add authenticity to that question of representation and it’s a nightmare, it’s a bloody shit show and the boot of doom is destroying everything. Not so comfortable anymore — this is my thought process.
So if transculturation is a euphemism and hegemony (power and privilege) undermines this “rainbow-hand-holding-cultural-love-fest” then how can we respectfully practice or engage in a culture that we, for lack of a better expression, were not born into or raised in, particularly where the question of being privy to practice a different culture is concerned? My answer to that has always been that it is important to distinguish between the malignant and the benign, the callously insensitive and the innocuous. In the case of the above, the difference between malignant “appropriation” and benign “synergy”. Here is where the grey gets stormy:
- Malignant Appropriation: Appropriation, as I understand it, is basically used to describe the way in which a hegemonic power usurps the cultural domains of those it intends to “take over” or integrate under it’s own institutional design. Important to keep in mind is that these domains that are being usurped have important historical, social, and cultural articulations of identity. This is all an oversimplification, probably a grievous one given the nuances of this entire field of study from which I borrow my terminology and understanding. Nevertheless, there is an inherent power dynamic captured in post-colonial studies that illustrates the fact that in this situation the hegemonic power or even hegemonic culture (colonizer) is atomizing and reshaping the identity of the “colonized” or of the Other with iniquitous disregard.
- Benign Synergy: This term brings the rainbow back into transculturation. Synergy emphasizes that post-colonial cultures or societies like Canada, the US, and Australia, are a product of various contributing cultures as well as the consequent complex cultural formations that develop thereafter, which too are various in scope. The unequal power dynamic and the implications of negativity inherent in the term appropriation do not pervade this characterization of cultural exchange as it occurs in a now much more positive, synergistic, transcultural manner. When cultural exchange is respectful (appreciably difficult to determine) or at least endeavours to be then it is much less problematic and thus benign in my eyes. Like a benign cancer, it is still something to watch but not something to get overly aggressive about. Feelings may still be hurt, minds may still be perplexed by flagrant cultural insensitivity but in recognizing that the intent was not to harm, a much more productive dialogue can begin or you can move on to frying bigger fish.
Okay, now why does any of this matter? I don’t know that it really does, but I’ll tell you what it means to me… it means that I wish I could read something that talks about race or gender or culture/ expressions of culture without seeing “THIS IS APPROPRIATION!” scrawled in crayon. It calls to mind the imagery of fighting a battle but with a renegade part of your army just recklessly blowing up everything, undermining all strategic advances.
For example, if dreadlocks is a part of your culture and all of a sudden you see someone who does not look like they were born in and/or raised in your culture wearing dreadlocks … and thus somehow not privy to that aspect of your culture… it does not mean that this is an undisputable example of appropriation. Now this is in no way a binary argument, a “this is either appropriation or it’s not and it’s synergy”; I appreciate that there is a lot of grey and it is precisely this grey that needs to be taken into consideration before we lambast everyone for being culturally insensitive. Take the dreadlock example again; if the “wearing dreadlocks” consisted of a hat with a few cottony tendrils then by all means, let us talk about how a corporation has appropriated and commoditized an expression of culture.
That was my end game… I went on a mental waltz because I was annoyed with reading that every breath is apparently a vile act of appropriation; I was annoyed by the N-word debacle; I was annoyed by disrespectful appropriative expressions of culture; and I was annoyed that people were erroneously classing positive, synergistic exchanges of culture as “APPROPRIATION”. Synergy and appropriation are very similar but it is the nuances that make them distinct, just as the nuances of a music video or a conversation or a side-glance can be an indicator of whether intentions are malignant or benign.
So I guess it can be said that those two doses of Iggy Azalea I referred to earlier really only turned my existing dalliance with this subject matter into a dizzying Viennese waltz, adding Hesitations that would throw a professional ballroom dancer into a tizzy. And while I may be annoyed with all the grandiose displays of carelessness, at the end of all this postulating about postcolonial discourse being relevant to my sphere of existence I realized that it is best to ignore some things. Intention is not always clear… and in those instances where the hateful or disrespectful nature of an intention is apparent, I can say a very healthy “Fuck you” without burdening my heart/soul with baffled negativity. Conversely, if I so choose and the other party is a reasonable human being, we can respectful discuss annoyances, miscommunications, embedded socio-historical context, and ways to be less insensitive. That way we are not attacking every seemingly silly nitwit with a head dress because how unfortunate would it be if that person turned around and told you everything there is to know about it, down to the significance of every artifact while all the ammo you had was “that’s appropriation because you are not allowed to wear that because you… don’t look like you’re from that culture!”
Discussions when possible are helpful, especially when mind reading is not an option. In response to the “runaway slave / master” issue, Iggy wrote, “[i]n all fairness, it was a tacky and careless thing to say and if you are offended, I am sorry […] Sometimes we get so caught up in our art and creating or trying to push boundaries, we don’t stop to think how others may be hurt by it. In this situation, I am guilty of doing that and I regret not thinking things through more.” Whether or not this is a genuine apology is difficult to know, just as it may be difficult at times to differentiate between appropriation and synergy but the most important caveats I take from her statement are that “we don’t stop to think how others may be hurt” and “it was tacky and careless”. That is a huge problem on both levels. Telling someone they cannot dread their hair as an expression of themselves or wear a kimono to their graduation, and to take it a step further by inferring they are evil imperial cultural usurpers by doing so because they weren’t born into the right culture is hurtful, unnecessary, tacky, careless, and presumes you know their intention. Of course, I cannot tell anyone to not be offended by something… that is ridiculous and would be ironically hypocritical but I hope more people will think about what they are processing and therein be more thoughtful about how they begin a dialogue about it — sans hurtful accusation when obvious intent is not actually obvious. Again, I’m not telling anyone to not be offended, I’m saying that you should think about what it is you are offended by, try to understand it, and when you’ve checked all your boxes then you can lace up your “boot of doom”. By not doing this and charging head on, crayons raised high, those who systematically and hatefully offend get to hide under the grey veil of nuance and worse still… turn those who speak up against them into “bullies” and I don’t know if anyone else has been paying attention but they are really good at that.
All of this thoughtless mud slinging is poised to turn our collective social space into more of a whirlwind, cancerous, shit storm… and it’s already hardly bearable. When we call out appropriation, racism, sexism, or cultural sensitivity let us not be like Iggy Azalea – careless and tacky – but instead let’s be thoughtful and strategic.