by: Jenn Vicious
Jenn Vicious is the radical community’s Agony Aunt, providing life coaching and social etiquette answers for radical cultures. Need poly, kinky, or queer dating advice, need to to know what to wear to court or a family function (you know, one you have to look “respectable” at), want to understand what to and not to say in some contexts, ask Jenn Vicious.
I named my film company “Subcommondante Films.” I’ve recently been told that some in the community think that is racist. I have much to say about why I named it such that I won’t go into here. I understand how it is a type of cultural appropriation and it even masquerades as more revolutionary than it actually is… but is it “racist?”
This is tricky. At some level, cultural appropriation is always racist. And whether or not something is inappropriately appropriative (yes, I did just make up that term) is always loaded with cultural ambiguity. Do I think that using “Subcommondante” is racist? No. Am I white? Yes.
I don’t think that you have to change the name of your film company. If that name means something specific, if it has resonance for you for personal reasons that you are able to articulate, keep it. It isn’t an offensive name, per se. I agree with your assessment that, on some level, it is cultural appropriation and that it “masquerades as more revolutionary than it actually is.”
So I think that when people approach you who do find it offensive or racist, you should hear them out. Don’t be defensive. Just listen to what they have to say, and why they think that. I think giving them space to articulate their position will be beneficial for both of you. I know that if I were you, I would be especially interested in hearing from people from Indigenous Mexican cultures, to hear if some of those individuals find it offensive. And I do mean individuals, because I am under no illusions that everyone in any particular culture is going to feel the same way about it. But I am more interested in the opinions of people who have something at stake.
Anyway, my point is hear people out. After you’ve heard them out, ask them if they are interested in knowing why you picked that name. If they are, tell them (preferably in a succinct way, but that’s just how I feel about it). If not, don’t. Either way, don’t try to change their minds.
That’s what I think, anyway. But, like I said, I’m white. I could be wrong.