Buckle up, I haven’t done a link roundup in ages and it’ll be a doozy.
First, I’ve just been interviewed on the Arch & Anth Podcast, and I’m very excited!
An article investigates why people hate vegans. As a former vegan (and current vegetarian), I got a lot of hate from meat-eaters, often without my even saying anything; often my menu selection would be enough to tip people into a frenzy of “Are you some kind of vegan? What if I smear meat on your plate, huh? Smell the tasty meat!” It’s bullying, and remarkably socially acceptable, in a category with fat-shaming, picky eaters in general, and mocking people for trying hard in school. Can we stop, please? Also, here’s another article on how popular media (marketing) ignores vegans of color, many of whom have been eating plant-centered diets since the 19th century.
We need to abolish prisons already. I am relatively new to this subject, so I don’t have many answers. But: disproportionate numbers of people of color and impoverished people are incarcerated. People of color are more likely to be arrested than white people, and more likely to be imprisoned long-term for less serious crimes. Crimes related to poverty could be prevented through various forms of wealth redistribution. Most people don’t commit crimes because they’re bad; they commit crimes because society hasn’t provided the things they need, institutionally and systemically, and deprived them of opportunities. In May, I was talking to a friend about abolition. I asked my friend what about actually bad people, like murderers. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” she said. “We don’t have all the answers now, but we need to recognise that prisons are not the answer.” Is the point of prison punishment or reform? In the current system, nobody knows, but it’s not working. I recommend reading this article about the trauma experienced by incarcerated people and listening to this podcast. I started with the episode on knitting in prisons.
Cultural appropriation and style
It’s easy to see why most objects that are called out as appropriative shouldn’t be removed from their cultural context or worn/used by people who aren’t members of that community (war bonnets worn as costumes being the key example — which is racism, and we should use that word). The solution is to recognise the white/European hegemony that has resulted in someone’s culture being commodified, not wear the thing, give your trophy skulls back, and pay reparations. (At the very least, don’t buy cheap costumes of other cultures.) Sometimes it’s more difficult to figure out to what extent your use of another culture’s material is harmful, particularly when it’s an activity rather than a physical object. I find yoga brought up quite frequently in this debate; saying no Westerner should ever practice it again is unlikely to be met with mass approval, considering its health benefits. Gandhi & Wolff examine the history of yoga’s import to the West (it was spread by Indian practitioners, but adapted to be palatable to Westerners and convince them India wasn’t a backwards land requiring colonial governance) and its marketing today (featuring lithe white cis women) shows that it is far from its origins as a Hindu spiritual practice. Beck examines the recent history of yoga as a physical practice and takes an approach similar to that of cultural sharing through food: cultures meet and change each other, and the end result can be appropriative if practiced disrespectfully. There’s no such thing as a cultural silo. We need to work with and rectify the effects of colonialism and point out racism when we see it. But I argue we must distinguish between harmful acts, microaggressions, and processes of cultural change that – while affected by colonial racism – are a separate issue.
I read this article questioning lumberjack chic and its place in Vancouver, bringing up what it means to idealise the past by dressing like it. I see this as somewhat connected to the trend of colonial chic restaurants (and occasional hotels), and wrote the following as a facebook comment: “I don’t think this style is unique to Vancouver. Styled beards, suspenders, and tailoring can be seen in hipsters the world over. In this article, it’s difficult to disambiguate the sartorial fashion from the restaurants/shops mentioned (there are a couple of restaurants that capitalise on colonial chic). It also doesn’t address who’s making and who’s wearing. Assuming that the lumberjack chic dudes aren’t making their own clothes, some corporation has to be getting their style inspiration from somewhere – what’s their motive? And is the problem the setting – that it’s in Vancouver – or the aesthetic of dressing like the past in general? If the latter (and I need to go ad absurdum here), then we shouldn’t wear anything inspired by the 20s because that was really influenced by Paul Poiret and he was an Orientalist (and also glorifying Prohibition and gang violence). We shouldn’t wear corsets as costumes because the 1800s saw worldwide colonial exploitation, slavery, oppression of women and working classes. We shouldn’t wear anything from the 80s because of Reaganomics and corporate greed.
I don’t think wearing historically-inspired clothes automatically sends one back into past notions of social roles. It’s something to keep in mind, certainly if one is attempting to live an 1890s-inspired life, and questioning the desire to dress like this is useful, but is the author recommending that people shouldn’t do it, or that it’s dangerous to do so? (Is it a critique of the wearers or the producers?)
I think I’m miffed because yes, the lumberjack hipster trend picks up on a kind of outdated idea of masculinity. But what era doesn’t?
(Dandies. We should all dress as dandies.)
(Wait, nevermind — the dandy sensibility was based on a sense of superiority to the middle classes and a return to feudalism.)”
If you’re not an academic deeply enmeshed in how cultural appropriation has happened (or, how white people take valuable culture from vulnerable/oppressed groups and then market it), you might be confused and think that a lot of young people are snowflakes waiting to be offended. This article shows how an essay for a journalism class examining the Oberlin cafeteria’s poor food labeling jumped the shark when media outlets reported it as a much bigger deal (and one that didn’t have an easy resolution). Watch what you read, and don’t buy into stereotypes. (Also, don’t buy stereotypes.) There are much greater concerns that are receiving much less media attention because the issues go deep. This one wasn’t about students not liking the food; it was about having their culture sold back to them in unpalatable form, and the university saying “we don’t understand you well enough to cater to your needs”. It’s a microaggression that was corrected when (rightfully) brought to the attention of administrators, but the media narrative took it in a different direction.
The problem with sex work is work
If you’re unfamiliar with arguments for decriminalising sex work, I’d highly recommend starting with Revolting Prostitutes, a fantastically informative manifesto that I’m currently lending to my students. Basically, the argument for decrim rather than legalisation is “why would you want the government in your bedroom” – and that it’s safer for the workers. I attended the SWARM conference earlier this year and came out of it a full Marxist – the problem with sex work is that we’re trapped in a capitalist system that makes people engage in work of any kind. For a shorter-than-a-book length article summarising the arguments, read this fantastic essay about a range of issues including FOSTA/SESTA.
Misconceptions of the past
To end on a lighter note, medieval historian Eleanor Janega argues that medieval people did, in fact, bathe.
For more article recommendations, follow my Pocket.