Thursday, November 20, 2014

Feminism and Cultural Appropriation

UPDATE: If you're one of the many whiners I've gotten in my inbox whining about how the raised fist didn't start with the black power movement, please see this post for further explanation of why you're terrible.

I've talked before about how white people love to steal shit from black people. Or if I haven't, I should have. We take words and dances and speech patterns and styles from them and wear them as fashion statements as we please, but when we actually see them on black people (where they belong) we call it "ghetto." Or worse, we use it as an excuse to commit violence upon them.

Feminism is not innocent of this. White feminists often use a symbol which appropriated a symbol of black power. It looks like this:

The raised fist is the black power symbol. It's a really powerful image that they came up with. Feminists didn't. We didn't even come up with the idea to put it in the female symbol. Black feminists did that.

I myself didn't realize this for a long time. Not until women of color pointed it out in their own writing. Which they have been doing for a long time, and yet the vast majority of white feminists I come across still have no idea that this symbol does not belong to us.

That's why I don't use it. If you're not black, you should also not use it. And for the love of god, don't get a tattoo of it.


quoderat said...

The "raised fist" has actually been around in early its current iconographic form since 1917. Many other groups have used it.

Here is more info:

It was truly popularized during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

Most people outside of the US would have no idea it has any association with "Black Power" unless they happen to recall the 1968 Olympics.

As mentioned, many, many other groups have used it over the years and will probably to continue to do so as it has no particular association for international folks with anything to do with what your ahistorical reading of it does.

Feminists started using it in 1969.

I'm also surprised by how many people cry "cultural appropriation" but then lack any actual cultural or historical knowledge of the relevant matters.

AstroCreep said...

Since I'm not American, I've always associated the raised fist with communism.
Some things have a more complex history than what we know or think.

Lindsey Weedston said...

The raised fist in general has been a symbol for multiple movements but each has their own style. Black feminists, for example, came up with integrating it into the female symbol.

intersectionalornothing said...

Yeah, I do see how this could seem to be the case, especially given that in America the raised fist was very prominently attached to the black power movement (and it's not to say white culture doesn't appropriate nigh everything, it definitely does), but the raised fist symbol dates back for millenia (first written evidence I believe was in Assyrian class struggle thousands of years ago) and has been used symbolically by nearly a hundred different groups

Janna Li Janke said...

I have heard this myth before, and would love to know where you got this from. I am sorry, but this is not true. My mother was an early feminist activist in Germany and Sweden and she used the symbol in the sixties. If you google you can find people who say that the american feminist activist Robin Morgan "invented" the symbol in 1969 to protest against the "Miss America" contest. But my mother and her friends used it before that.

I also strongly oppose that political symbols can be Cultural Appropriation. That is to misuse the concept of CA.

Janna Li Janke said...

I really understand black feminists in the US, your anger and frustration. But you should also know that non-US people get really tired of you Americans. You have very little knowledge of non-US history, and you are not interested in learning. Otherwise you would never spread a myth like this one. Feminists and socialists in the rest of the world would never think of trying to claim a widely spread symbol as their own, only Americans would come up with that kind of idea. Sorry, but it has to be said.

Lindsey Weedston said...

I'm not black. And the symbol I'm talking about is specifically the female symbol with the raised fist in it, which was made by black women. Okay? Are you done being an asshole now?

Lindsey Weedston said...

Uh, no. It is cultural appropriation. And white people don't get to decide what is not cultural appropriation. White feminists should not get this tattoo. I don't care if that offends you.

Janna Li Janke said...

That is not true. Just listen to me. Nobody want to take the symbol away from the Black Feminist Movement in US, but they did NOT come up with it. And they dont have exclusive rights. Maybe for you white US feminists its a rather new symbol, but NOT for us. Its been around for very long. And for the socialist feminists, it is the most important symbol.

I am really not an asshole. Just a non-US socialist feminist that hear a myth about the fist and the venussign being spread as truth. I am trying to get your herstory right.

My mother participated in the socialist activist movement in Germany. The female activists got tired of the male activists sexism and started organizing. My mother dont know exactly when she saw the sign first. She was with the people who protested against the Shah of Irans visit in Germany, wich led to the shooting and killing of Benno Ohnesorg. That was in june 1967 and she is sure the symbol was used at that time. And she know it being used before that too.

Then in 1969 US feminist Robin Morgan used it in a protest, and people claim she came up with it. Morgan herself never said that.

My mother and many other women fought for that symbol. I am sure the Black Feminists fought for it too. But I cant understand why black feminists want to take it away from my mother? From the socialist feminist movement outside US? Where is the sisterhood in that? Ok, they are angry with white feminist groups, I really understand that. They have been marginalized and stomped on. But is it ok to step on other marginalizad and struggeling groups because you are marginalized?

This blog entry now spreads among feminists in my circles. And people get upset and sad. What we see is another American who doesnt care for any history outside the US. Is that the image you want to present?

Lindsey Weedston said...

Okay that's great that your mom said that, but she isn't even saying she came up with it. How can anyone take it away from her if it's not hers to begin with?

Also, I'm not going to listen to you over black women. We white people have been stealing shit from black people for-fucking-ever. Now you're getting all upset because your mom said she saw it before the 1960's. I don't care for the constant efforts of we white feminists to act like we're all there is to the entire history of feminism. I care more about giving black women credit than what some white woman's mom said about her supposed history.

Janna Li Janke said...

Please google and educate yourself. Please. Don't just spread a myth just because it fits in to a pattern of white people stealing shit from black people.

Do you even know who Benno Ohnesorg was? Do you know what happened in Germany after WWII? About the police brutality in Germany in the sixties and how young people protesting against that the leaders in Germany did not make up with their nazi past? And got beaten and killed because of their protests? About the shah of Iran and what he did? Do you know anything about the history of socialism, activism and feminism outside the US?

Because if you did you would not write like this, you would not put the struggle of my mother and other women against the struggle of Black Women in US. And if the Black Feminists that think the symbol is theirs, if they knew more about herstory worldwide they would not spread this myth either. The symbol raised fist inside a Venus sign is nobodys to claim. It is Universal.

If you don't want to educate yourself it is your loss. I will bear my symbol with pride. Maybe I will even get a tattoo...

Lindsey Weedston said...

Let me get this straight. Because I'm repeating the words of black women who have told us white feminists, I'm pitting your mother and other white European feminists against black feminists? Speaking of patterns, this is a classic silencing method used by white feminists and other white activists. As soon as people of color speak up about fucked up shit that white people are doing that's hurting people of color, said white people go "you're creating conflict within the movement! You're making this people of color vs. white people!" This is designed to silence people of color, who always must wait until later to address racism within the movement.

We can't even discuss the possibility of cultural appropriation within feminism, can we? No, it might soil the memory of your oh so important mother and her white feminist friends, and it might make you feel bad about yourself because a symbol you like has been stolen by your people.

Think about this. Let's assume that what your mother says is true and that exact symbol I posted above was used in Germany and Sweden during feminist protests before the 60's. You don't seem to know who created it. How do you know a European woman of color didn't come up with it? Because that's another pattern. If we don't know the origin of something, it's pretty fucking likely it was made by a person of color. But you say it's universal, which means you're assuming it was made by a white person, because that's the only way it could be universal to all races.

And to top it all off, you're demanding I spend my time researching white feminism and white history. I have a finite amount of time, and so I'm going to continue to spend it educating myself on the history of those that we white people have fucked over because then I can be more likely to avoid hurting those who are actually oppressed. Those people do not include white Europeans.

And if you would blithely risk hurting black women by getting that symbol permanently etched onto your skin because you assume based on what your mom said or based on history as written by white people that it was made by a white woman, you're a racist. Actually, based on all of the above, you're clearly a racist white feminist and you're hurting women of color. Check yourself.

crypticheart07 said...

"The feminist button depicting a clenched fist inside the biological female symbol debuted at the 1969 protest. It quickly spread to become the women's liberation trademark. As originally designed, it was "menstrual red" on white, though it morphed into many colors and styles over the next few decades."


The person in the tumblr blog post didn't even list their sources and just posted pictures of black women and the symbol. Only one of the photos is dated, and it's dated as 1972.

I'm willing to even believe Janna Li Janke that the symbol is, in fact, older. As a self-identified anarcha-feminist, it always upset me when people attribute the raised fist to the Black Panthers when anarchist and socialist labourers were, in fact, using it during the turn of the of century. It has been around for well over a century and many decades before the Black Panthers even existed.

Janna Li Janke is right. This comes from a capitalistic American idea in "intellectual property". This is anti-libertarian and does not represent anarchist/socialist ideals.

It's a symbol for the disenfranchised and oppressed, and it's wonderful that the Black Panthers have popularized it, but it doesn't belong to black people exclusively. Please cite the source of the black woman who "invented" the feminist symbol. Not to make an appeal to authority logical fallacy, but Jo Freeman is an academic scholar on this subject. Who is this other woman who does not even cite her sources?

crypticheart07 said...

Yes, the evidence presented by Janna Li Janke is anecdotal at best, but
if you are likewise going to assert a claim, the burden of proof falls
on you to prove it. (And all you have offered is one post without
sources cited. And one of the photos that is dated falls well past the
Miss America protests in 1969).

Wanting to believe is one thing. The truth of what you want to believe is something else.

you don't care about the truth of it, fine. Believe whatever you want.
Just realize it is academically dishonest to propagate this idea without
proof. Also, you should think twice about being upset over this when
the burden of proof lies on you to prove the claim. You are the one to
assert the claim.

This isn't about black erasure, it is about
using logical methodology to determine the truth. The study of rhetoric
died out when the Romantics influenced our educational system,
otherwise, we would all learn this in school.