Cultural Appropriation 101 – Is it okay to call the mainstream Babylon?
Cultural appropriation is a tricky topic, especially for privileged white people, including myself. The idea, as i understand it, is that the dominant group takes culture and fashion from peoples they have oppressed without thinking much about it. And the people who are having their culture borrowed/stolen are yet again abused by the privileged class.
Black face performances are a classic example of cultural appropriate, which is so obviously repulsive now it is almost never done anymore. But what about Mohawks? This is a hairstyle from the indigenous North American natives which has been adopted by the punk movement. This tribe was part of the Iroquois confederacy and like most native cultures in North America was decimated by European settlers who landed after Columbus.
But the very nature of cultural appropriation is tricky, because in some cases the oppressed people who took on the culture borrowed it themselves. This is the case with dreadlocks, which have been popularized as a low maintenance hairstyle which adorns the Rastafarian’s. Is it inappropriate for whites to don dreadlocks? Does it matter that before the Rastifarians embraced them they were the style from multiple cultures from around the world, of different racial ancestry? Does it matter that some of these ancient cultures (like the Sufis) want their style emulated while some Rastifarians do not?
For me it gets even worse with the use of the word Babylon. Babylon is also used by the Rastafarian culture and some people get upset when i use it as a piece of cultural appropriation. But the Rastifarians got the term from the early Christians, of multiple races and classes.
From Truth FAQ
What is Babylon? In literal terms, Babylon was a city in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). It was known for its great wealth, impressive walls and buildings, hanging gardens and its codes of law. Metaphorically, it is referenced many times in the Christian bible as a symbol of great evil and sin; it has also be used by other cultures/groups to symbolize various things, e.g. the Rastafarian movement uses the term to describe the system that has oppressed them. ‘Babylon’ is used here as a metaphor to describe the system of control that has enslaved humanity via the legal name. In particular it refers to the system of commerce that the entire world has been made subject to. There is no doubt in my mind that dominant races and cultures need to pay attention to issues of cultural appropriate and avoid simply snapping up things they find stylish, cute or trendy. At the same time, many cultural components have multiple histories and complex origins which can be celebrated and respected.
And there is something which feels highly appropriate about calling the mainstream society “Babylon” and the people who live in it “Babylonians”, as contrasted to communards or other folks who choose to fall out of mainstream lifestyles. The symbolism of Babylon as a grand city which embodies the problems of the contemporary world feels apt.
And i expect there will be some displeased comments on this post from friends and advisers who feel this practice is ill advised.