Category Archives: development

Appropriation vs. Creative Activism

I’ve been thinking lately about cultural appropriation and how to avoid it.  My principle concern comes from the fact that I am fascinated by indigenous cultures and indigenous activism.  I’ve read some really interesting accounts in my study of human rights on indigenous movements and creative solutions to common activist problems. But I’ve wondered if identifying with and being interested in these movements is a bad thing, especially when I’m thinking about how to apply indigenous ideas to activist movements in the United States as a white, middle class individual.

There was a post on cultural appropriation at Bitch Magazine that presented a really helpful guiding line for this problem.  Basically, it’s about attribution.  White people tend to appropriate the ideas of nonwhite people and of marginalized groups in general, whether queer, disabled, indigenous, or something else, and then claim them as their own–directly or through silence.  What this says to me (and correct me if I’m wrong), is that it’s good to recognize the creativity of solutions presented by marginalized people, and to incorporate them into, or use them as the basis for, an activist movement.  But it is essential to attribute those ideas to that group, and to the individuals that have expressed them.  It is not okay to take the ideas out of context, to strip away their origins, and to exclude those who presented the ideas in the first place.

Thoughts?

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World AIDS Day: Where Do We Go From Here?

There’s been a bit of radio silence here, as you may have noticed, though I’m still blogging fairly regularly with my ladies at the F-Wave. I wanted to break that silence, though, to make a comment on World AIDS Day.

Last year this time, I was on the floor of my apartment in Iowa City with my friend Rita, researching and creating a poster presentation to mark the day at our law school. I remember thinking as we did that presentation how many populations are affected by AIDS, and also how much AIDS is tied in with legal/political issues in various tangential arenas. Take a moment today to think about some of these, and add your own in the comments:

  • Funding for development, both HIV/AIDS related and generally
  • Laws that criminalize/penalize sex workers and those who work with them
  • Sex education, especially focused on sexual violence prevention
  • Marginalization of women of color and women generally worldwide
  • Laws that keep HIV positive people and people living with AIDS from adequate health insurance coverage, work, travel, and giving blood
  • Sodomy laws that make it difficult to work with men who have sex with men and provide proper prevention and treatment, as well as endangering unknowing wives
  • The use of rape as a weapon of war in Darfur and elsewhere

Categorizing “Worlds”

We were talking today in my human rights course about the “First/Second/Third World” system of categorizing countries, and also about the “Fourth World” of marginalized groups such as indigenous people.  Obviously, using the number system means you’re making a value judgement, but I also object somewhat to the use of the terms “developed” and “developing” to create a dichotomy that I also feel is value-based.  I use those terms sometimes when it comes to economics, but I’m uncomfortable with them.  It’s not just that we’re calling some nations undeveloped or underdeveloped, but more that we assume “developed” is a good thing.  The right to the development presupposes that everyone wants the kind of development that we have reached in our society, as I mentioned in a previous post, and ignores not only “side effects” but also the kind of broad conceptual/perceptual shifts that are inherent in this terminology.  

So what are the alternatives?  A lot of people use the terms Global North and Global South, which are a little more “accurate” than East/West, but they still ignore the vast differences among “Global South” countries.  Another problem to any form of geographic or value-based classification system is that it ignores disparities within a country.  Some scholars, for example, have pointed out that labelling the U.S. or European countries as “developed” ignores the right to development that women living in poverty in these countries have to seek development on their own terms.  When you frame development in this way – the right to seek out your own well-being and ways to earn a living on your own terms – I think we’re really hitting on something.  

This relates to another point that I made in my law of war seminar last week, related to the question of whether the international community should have been involved in Rwanda or not.  One student repeatedly stresssed that based on state sovereignty, we should only intervene if the country wants us to – “If they ask us.”  My problem with this, is that though I think culturally appropriate tribunals and decisionmaking are a good thing, I also think that we need to be wary of using this vague “they.”  There is no “they” in a situation like that.  When women were being subjected to mass rape, and many were traumatised and extremely fearful, it is difficult to say that we should simply ignore the situation because “they” don’t want us to get involved, or because women have forgiven the perpetrators.  Perhaps they have, but I do think that it if women have no resources, no medical help, don’t feel safe, etc., we need to ask if the “forgiveness” claimed by men in power is genuine.  I’m not saying that paternalism is a good idea, but I am saying that it’s important to consider the varying experiences within a culture and to take those experiences into consideration when offering “development” or other assistance.