#BlackBlogsMatter Challenge – Day 5 – Cultural Appropriation

Welcome to the #BlackBlogsMatter challenge! Throughout the 28 days of February, my posts will not (necessarily) be about HR, Leadership or Management topics.

Cultural appropriation is the use or adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture.

I’ve heard a lot of people will say “What’s the big deal? Imitation is the greatest form of flattery” … I call shenanigans and bull$#!+ on this.

  • Imitation without understanding the meaning and context is disrespectful.
  • Imitation without giving credit to the creator or muse is theft.
  • Accepting praise, accolades and money for your imitation while the people you imitate are judged as lesser and suffer ongoing injustice is racist.

Yep. You read that right … Cultural appropriation is racist.

Why? Because it perpetuates and upholds the stereotypes that keep systems of oppression alive and kicking. Anything that does these things is  racist.

  • You don’t actively dislike and denigrate the people of that culture ? Good … Still racist. You can do racist things and not be racist. It’s unfortunate, but true.
  • You didn’t intend it to mean harm? OK… Still racist. Most harm is caused inadvertently and unwittingly. Unconscious and subconscious racism are real and true.
  • You have friends and family that are part of that culture? Lovely … Still racist. Having a friend, family member or even being a small percentage of a group yourself doesn’t 1) make you part of the culture or 2) absolve you from responsibility for hurtful or harmful actions. We are just as capable of detriment to those we care for as we are to those we don’t.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if you’re crossing the line:

  • Do I fully understand the history and significance of this? If the answer is “no”, you are appropriating and you should stop.
  • Who is profiting from this? If the answer is not definitively “the people of the native culture”, you are appropriating and you should stop.
  • Is this appropriate for the environment or event? There are some places and occasions where assimilating to the cultural norms is appropriate and arguably expected. In those times, your action is a sign of respect, deference and true appreciation … NEWSFLASH: Halloween and Fashion Week runways are NOT ever such times. Never ever ever ever ever … Wearing someone’s sacred culture to entertain others is appropriating and you should stop.

The line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is very, very thin.   If you are unsure which side of line you’re on, the most appropriate thing to do is stop. Instead, find a way to put a new spin on your own culture and represent that instead.

Tune in tomorrow for Day 6 – Black Card Revoked

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