* Byron Ballard, in her typically brilliant manner, refers to appropriation as “cultural strip-mining.” I couldn’t help but think of her discussion when I read Michale Twitty‘s recent take on Thug Kitchen, the hottest of the hot new cookbooks (Note the absence of People of Color). As Mr. Twitty explains:
Thug Kitchen is a popular blog and now it’s a best-selling cookbook. It’s also a really great gimmick. Its genius lies in both its graphic presentation, branding[,] and[,] of course[,] its Samuel L. Jackson meets Chris Rock meets Gangsta Rap (so past tense) profanity all in the effort to popularize fashionable foodieism, specifically healthy, vegan eating. If you’re a member of the Millenial generation, it’s a combination that’s sexy as fu#k.
Thug Kitchen is also written by two pretty ass white kids from West Hollywood. These pretty Anglo-Saxons not only have sex, they cook together[,] too and, when they cook, they morph into “thugs,” brandishing cross hatching butcher knives to encourage people to eat like they “give a fu#k.” They have Gwyneth Paltrow hot to trot and I’m sure they made an agent want to put a cap in somebody’s ass just because they chose to work with them to put this cookbook out and further commodify their 21st century culinary minstrel routine.
Mr. Twitty explains the origins of “Thug,” and notes that we’re not talking about:
a secret society claiming to be the children of the goddess Kali. Thugee and it’s equally interesting relationship to the colonial presence is not on trial here.”
He also discusses the origins of Thug culture and stresses that:
Tupac, no matter what his personal issues, was a thoughtful young Black man who really cared about his people and didn’t know how to answer the problems of class inequity, racial hatred and violence in his community. He struggled with marketing an image that brought him millions with a thought life that tended towards the revolutionary culture passed to him through his mother Afeni. Tupac tried to balance his perspectives by talking about Thug Life. Thug Life, is really key here because it was a code, a message, a negotiation between the street and civility.
Thug Life was never meant to be a celebration of criminality. It was about the hustle, a uniquely American hustle that has been part of the African American peoplehood since 1526 and 1619. You have nothing, you are underprivileged and disadvantaged[,] but you use what you have to succeed and prevail. The thugs of Tupac’s imagination weren’t petty criminals (especially since we now live in the “post-racial” age of using “thug” as stand in for “nigger”)[,] they were mental and social warriors fighting the status quo. Thug Life was an attempt to reclaim a word and a label from further linguistic destruction.
As Witches and Pagans, we are often both sinned against and sinners when it comes to appropriation. We know more than a little bit about attempts to reclaim words, (oh, say, “Witch,” for example) from further linguistic destruction. And we both resent the way that Christianity appropriated our holidays, Goddesses, Gods, and practices and we (some of us, lots of us, me) appropriate practices from other religions and cultures with abandon.
I am a devotee of the Goddess Hecate, who likely comes from Anatolia, into Greece, into Europe. I have no connections to either Anatolia or Greece, nor to most of southern Europe, but I am Hecate’s and she recognizes me. I live on stolen land and the records of the Patomak peoples, who first lived here, and of the Gods and Goddesses that they worshiped, have been eradicated. And, so, I find myself doing the originalist work of spending time in contact with the powers, and spirits, and beings of this place — as if it hadn’t already been done — in order to get to know them and to understand how to honor them. Sinned against and sinner, I stand at the crux of appropriation.
In the end, I always come back to Derrick Jensen‘s discussion of what The Land told him that it meant for him to fish for salmon. It means that he is responsible for ensuring the survival of the salmon race.
May we learn to treat each other with honor. May enslaved and colonized peoples reap the benefit from the foodways and the byways that we’ve stolen from them. May I learn to act with greater awareness.
* From the Strange and Wonderful Things Happen To Me And I’ve Learned To Go With The Flow Department:
I love to decorate my home and yard for the secular holiday of Halloween. I do a little bit for Mabon, and Yule, and for Eostara, but Halloween is when I go all out. The Witches of my circle are used to having to delay our Samhein rituals every few years in order to allow for my need to hand out candy to the neighborhood children (and, OK, I admit, to, most years, hand out mulled wine to their parents) on Halloween.
I have some unique yard decorations and, every year, a few folks stop by before Halloween to say, “Where DID you get those?,” snap pictures, take measurements, and walk around the yard and exclaim. (This year, it was only thanks to Landscape Guy that I put the decorations up at all, as my family was v. busy.)
Years ago, I bought two large, outdoor, Halloween lanterns from a set of three. The catalog selling them didn’t have the middle-sized lantern on sale, but I figured that, heck, I’d just buy the middle one the next year. Of course, after that, the catalog discontinued the lanterns and, even on eBay, etc., I was never able to find the middle one. But I’ve put out the two that I have, every year, on my steps, lighted from inside by candles and solar-powered lights, and consoled myself that no one would notice the missing middle-sized one.
Tonight, there was a gentle knock on my door and a woman I didn’t know stood on my stoop with the missing middle-sized lantern. She told me that she lived a few streets over and always enjoyed my decorations. She’s in the process of downsizing and thought that the one lantern that she had would look good with mine. And she hoped that I wouldn’t think that she was crazy. No, she wouldn’t take any payment, not even herbs from my garden or a glass of wine. She just felt moved to come over on this windy-clouds-scudding-against-the-almost-full-Moon-night and give me the one Halloween decoration that I’ve been missing for several years.
Sometimes, I specifically ask the Universe to surprise me in a lovely way. And, sometimes, it does.
May it be so for you.
* My regular readers know that I’ve worked hard to turn my commute into a major part of my spiritual practice. I deliberately take a (slightly longer) route that brings me past the Potomac River and through some of D.C.’s loveliest monuments. I focus on cultivating a relationship with the trees and other plants along the route. I try to practice loving kindness to the other
assholes drivers along the way, even when they cut me off, don’t move as soon as the light changes, shift lanes just at the box. As Christine Kane says, what really matters is “Are you gentle, are you kind when you’re stuck in traffic?” And so I was delighted to see this WaPo article about mindful commuting. So many of us say we have no time for our daily practice and so many of us have long commutes. And, as the article notes, there are even apps for this.
May it be so for you.
* I’d love to visit this garden: