Zillah

Cultural Appropriation and tattoos

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I'll never understand why anyone worries themselves over what other people think in regards to the tattoos that they have on their own body. If I worried about that and listened to other people then I wouldn't have a single one. Get what you want and where you want it. Don't stress over cultural appropriation or any of that other crap. You'll live longer.

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Come again?

Must be an American made up thing. Forget I brought it up. It's stupid. Reeeeal stupid. It's been brought up on this forum before and I should not have mentioned it because it doesn't deserve it.

Is that what I said? No, that's a stretch. Yellow fever, as in the current cultural "creepy white man with Asian fetish" and it's objectification of Asian women because of their race. I, personally, think it's odd for a white guy to get a full rib piece (the sample I saw, but can't find it now) of a modern Asian woman in a sexualized pose simply because she's Asian. But that's me.

Point I was trying to make was that I find it ridiculous when imagery that has been tattooed for a while, enough to be considered "classic", are redefined by people to have what I consider outrageous meanings. Sometimes a swallow is just a swallow, a pin-up is just a pin-up, a story is just a story, a fish is just a fish. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth just used (perhaps poorly) the idea of imagery and assuming Asian fetish as a leaping point.

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My ink is for me anyway.

I've traveled extensively and make a point of learning about the cultures that I wander through. I sample their cuisine, enjoy their music, and sometimes I even admire their art. I've been known to make Brazilian Acarajés at home, I thoroughly enjoy the opera of Don Giovanni, and I'm about to get inked with some Mayan glyphs to commemorate my Mayan Wedding. I do these things not because I want to steal or bastardize a culture, but because I embrace these things. I don't understand why people would be upset that their culture would be admired by those of other cultures. Make no sense to me. Is Eric Clapton wrong for playing the Blues?

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I'm genuinely curious how people who are concerned about cultural appropriation in tattooing regard other art forms.

Is it problematic if a westerner learns and eventually teaches a Japanese martial art?

What about people in non-western societies playing violin or learning how to paint... Are they culturally confused?

We'd end up with a very stratified view of art and cultural practices.

To take the example of martial arts again: you could argue that it was western interest and support that has underpinned and ensured the survival of Japanese martial arts. Judo is in the Olympics... French aikido is a sensation etc.

When we share art cross fertilisation occurs and something new can come of it. To take the example of filipino martial arts and western boxing: There's a good argument that the structure and dynamism of modern boxing draws from experience of westerners and immigrants familiar with the Filipino martial arts. Meanwhile many filipino styles have incorporated the use of western protective equipment for use in sparring etc. it's a two way street.

Yes, sometimes power imbalances between societies can result in injustices but I feel like the issue there is the power imbalance not the cross cultural art relations itself.

To get back to tattoo specific discussion:-

There's some fascinating stuff written by NZ tattoo researchers on the whole idea of ta mojo as a cultural practice for Maoris only ('if no Maori blood is spilled it's not ta moko'). There is a different term for moko style tattooing applied to non Maori used by some artists but there's no widespread agreement that this is correct.

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i was gonna get an native american lady head but i didn't and now looking back on it i am glad i didn't get one...not judging anyone who has any native american traditional tattoos...i think some look great...but just not on me. after reading bury my heart at wounded knee (if you are into history and want to read about native american perspective of the history of the west this book is great and brutal) i can't watch john wayne movies and i really can't think that even the classic native american tattoo designs are not somewhat racist and historically inaccurate. but like somebody else said i imagine most native americans have a lot more pressing concerns than what some non native american folks have tattooed on them.

pretty sure anthony keidis has a tattoo of sitting bull on his arm i feel like thats a little different than having an anglo looking lady head with a war bonnet. more like a tribute idk.

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I'm Filipino, Irish, French, and English. My most recent tattoo was a Santa Muerte, which is a highly debated image in many places. The Catholic church has banned its worship because it says that death is an event and not a person, while worshippers have created a cult out of their faith in her. She is worshipped by drug addicts, prostitutes, LGBTQ communities, taxi drivers, etc. I'm not Catholic by any means, but I do like the image, and got it because it's super metal and death is interesting. Cultural appropriation? Maybe. I don't think so, anyway.

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For those who are interested in this sort of thing, the problem with cultural appropriation is not simply borrowing from another culture. The problem comes from an imbalance of power in that relationship. When a dominant group starts appropriating the sacred traditions, symbols, icons, and cultural artefacts of a subject culture, then it is not uncommon for those in the subordinate group to be offended by that use of their heritage. Some will care more than others, and some will care not at all. That said, I think the issue of power relationships between groups has been missing from this discussion. The use of other groups symbols may cause insult or offense, regardless of intentions. Some don't care, others care a great deal, and likely many have never even thought about it.

Do whatever you like, and get whatever tattoos you want. I have no horse in this race, and I don't care what anyone gets tattooed or who tattoos them. I have a sugar skull that many would consider appropriative. I'm simply trying to highlight the root of the debate about cultural appropriation.

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For those who are interested in this sort of thing, the problem with cultural appropriation is not simply borrowing from another culture. The problem comes from an imbalance of power in that relationship. When a dominant group starts appropriating the sacred traditions, symbols, icons, and cultural artefacts of a subject culture, then it is not uncommon for those in the subordinate group to be offended by that use of their heritage. Some will care more than others, and some will care not at all. That said, I think the issue of power relationships between groups has been missing from this discussion.

This is great. You articulated what I was feeling but I wasn't able to convey - the imbalance of power and why the yellow fever tattoos bugged me and the other ones don't.

Point I was trying to make was that I find it ridiculous when imagery that has been tattooed for a while, enough to be considered "classic", are redefined by people to have what I consider outrageous meanings. Sometimes a swallow is just a swallow, a pin-up is just a pin-up, a story is just a story, a fish is just a fish. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth just used (perhaps poorly) the idea of imagery and assuming Asian fetish as a leaping point.

No problem. This thread has a lot of good discussion, and your reference to something being "classic" is also another good point - that at some point in time down the road when time has passed, it doesn't/shouldn't matter anymore.

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Must be an American made up thing. Forget I brought it up. It's stupid. Reeeeal stupid. It's been brought up on this forum before and I should not have mentioned it because it doesn't deserve it.

I just wondered because I am gay and getting a koi on Saturday and was like whaaaaaaat?!

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This is great. You articulated what I was feeling but I wasn't able to convey - the imbalance of power and why the yellow fever tattoos bugged me and the other ones don't.
I admit I don't really see the issue with a white man who is into Asian women. What's the line between a preference and fetishization?

Anyway, I'm glad this topic came up. Lately, I've been searching for Jondix tattoos and thinking it would be cool to have something like this. I have practiced transcendental meditation for a long time so I like the idea of a tattoo that depicts meditation, however I'm not Buddhist and I have no idea how Buddhists would feel about an image like this. I don't want to get a tattoo of something I don't feel like I understand.

That being said I think a lot of people take attempts to not make a mockery out of someone's cultural history to such an extreme it no longer makes sense. I assume these blogs calling sugar skull tattoos racist are on tumblr. I go on tumblr a lot because it's a good place for images of tattoos and such. However, reading anything written on tumblr is generally a mistake. Tumblr is a breeding ground for the worst kind of "activists." Some of these social justice warriors go to such an extreme, it comes across as racism against white people. Sounds like they are making a lot of assumptions about the tattoo owner's ethnic background, cultural understanding, and reason for getting the tattoo based on their skin color alone. I'm not an expert on the day of the dead, but I thought the sugar skull was only a piece of candy eaten on that holiday, and I had no idea it was taken so seriously. I have some Mexican-American relatives and I doubt they would think this is offensive.

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I admit I don't really see the issue with a white man who is into Asian women. What's the line between a preference and fetishization?

We're getting far from tattooing here, but I think the issue is that white men who "prefer" Asian women can risk depersonalizing the actual women they become involved with, even if it's in the guise of a compliment ("they're all so beautiful," etc). Not all, but some. And, not to be glib, that plenty of Asian women find it creepy.

The power imbalance issue is what's offensive to me about sexualized Native American imagery. I don't presume to speak for all Native Americans, just saying that I wouldn't feel comfortable wearing it, particularly as someone who descends from folks who had an early hand in said exploitation.

- - - Updated - - -

Honestly, I probably shouldn't be speaking about tattooing in this thread, but it's hard not to comment because this issue is one that I care about in any other context. I was thinking about this thread earlier, and you could probably argue that I'm appropriating someone else's culture by getting tattooed at all.

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We're getting far from tattooing here, but I think the issue is that white men who "prefer" Asian women can risk depersonalizing the actual women they become involved with, even if it's in the guise of a compliment ("they're all so beautiful," etc). Not all, but some. And, not to be glib, that plenty of Asian women find it creepy.

The power imbalance issue is what's offensive to me about sexualized Native American imagery. I don't presume to speak for all Native Americans, just saying that I wouldn't feel comfortable wearing it, particularly as someone who descends from folks who had an early hand in said exploitation.

I don't like the Native American pin ups either, they look like stereotypes. I don't judge anyone who has them, but if I was going to get a Native American tattoo I would want something that seems more real.

Yeah, now that I think about it, I've known a couple of white guys who decided they want an "Asian girlfriend" without any thought about what the Asian girl is actually like as a human. I've also known genuine interracial relationships though so I try not to judge based on appearance.

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I think there is a certain nuance that gets lost in discussions about cultural appropriation. There's a difference between cultural exchange (e.g. Western people getting Japanese-style tattoos) and cultural appropriation.

There's more to it than just, "did this design come from another culture?" That alone isn't offensive. Does this design have specific spiritual / cultural significance that is lost on outsiders (the Maori Tā moko)? Is this tattoo inaccurate in a significant way that shows a lack of respect for the culture (Native American women in a headdress)? Is the subject of the tattoo from a cultural group that is subjected to oppression or violence today in a manner depicted in the tattoo (gypsy head tattoos [beheading], Native American pin-up girls [sexual assault])?

From what I understand, dreamcatcher tattoos generally aren't offensive because they don't have a specific spiritual meaning and have been given to outsiders for decades. Whereas a sexualized woman in a headdress is offensive because the headdress had specific cultural meaning and because Native American women are subjected to sexual assault at an incredibly high rate.

Deciding what tattoos you're comfortable getting is a very personal choice... I would not judge anyone here or speak badly about anyone's tattoos. I am only critical about what I would get on my own body. Even if I don't fully understand why a tattoo is offensive to members of a culture, I prefer to err on the side of respect (even if it's "over-PC") than offense.

Sorry this got so long, and sorry in advance if I offended anyone. This is something I have thought a lot about.

Edited by graybones
slightly edited wording in 1 sentence

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Started a similar one a while back and didn't gain too much ground, more specifically about native-themed tattoos. http://www.lastsparrowtattoo.com/forum/tattoo-designs-books-flash/1845-native-american-tattoos-designs.html It's an interesting thing because -- let's take the example of a lady head in a headdress -- most people just throw a bunch of designs together and put a headdress on a sexy-lookin' lady, which is obviously not accurate. But that design, as well as many others, have become part of the tattoo vocabulary and it seems there are plenty of native people who have no problem with it.

I've actually been thinking about this lately, too, and would love to talk to someone like John Gloyne over at Hot Stuff in Asheville, who is a great tattooer and also Cherokee.. maybe do a little interview kinda deal.

Anyway @cltattooing had the best answer.

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