Cultural Appropriation (or not?) in the SCA


Alright, so I was gonna ask this on the SCA facebook page. But based on a discussion I just read, the page is full of ableist, old, ornery, flaming white douches. Which leads me to believe they’re likely racist to boot.

I’m hoping for a more interesting, educating and peaceful discussion on here. If you aren’t in the SCA but want to get in on this, please do! I’m exceptionally curious about this topic.

So within the SCA you develop a persona/character based on a time period and culture. Most people go with viking, roman or western European. There are loads of others but those make up the bulk of it.

When explaining the SCA to someone and how to join it, I told them about developing a persona. I said that unless they are of certain closed cultures, they should avoid making a persona based on them (specifically; First Nations peoples, Maya and Inca. I realize now I should have also included Romani). When listing personas I know of, I listed Mongolian as one. This didn’t appear to be appropriation to me at the time, because he portrays it well and also from a time during the Mongolian empire, when they were oppressors rather than the oppressed. I got an ask about it and that fueled my curiosity.

We say white people can’t experience racism or cultural appropriation because they (we) are the oppressors and the dominant culture. Does this apply as well to dominant cultures in the past? Is it cultural appropriation if you are portraying a persona accurately (something the SCA as a whole strives for) and respectfully from a time when they themselves were the oppressors?

It is my understanding that because we’re doing the research into the history and material culture of the civilizations in our scope, and not just wearing it like a costume, it isn’t appropriation.

I have approximately 0% Chinese heritage, but my latest research project has been the Tang Dynasty. I was afraid to do it at first, because I didn’t want to be approproative, but I’m glad I did. I learned about an amazing period of Chinese history, and I’ve been able to share that with others. It has also expanded my social sphere as I have discovered the SCA folk who are also interested in ancient/imperial China. I don’t have a Chinese persona, but apart from having an SCA name, I don’t play the persona game.

If you’re respectful and approach something with honest interest and scholarly intent, you’ll be fine. If someone accuses you of approproation, all you can do is apologize and try to explain your intent. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something new and make a new friend.