Confronting Racism

 Glenn Bigonet, M.A.

Social Activist for Racial Equity

Facilitating Discussions about Racism

 

617-462-6642

gbigonet@icloud.com

           

 

Cultural Appropriation

 

"What white supremacy once denied to and vilified in entire

races of people it has discrimnated against, it now appropriates

and commodifies. This is racism, and it must be wrestled with."

Layla Saad

 

Cultural Appropriation is defined by Ijeoma Oluo as "the adoption or expoitation of another culture by a more dominant culture."(p.146) When and how this is harmful is often difficult to define as different people of the same culture can disagree on what is appropriation and what is just appreciation. Layla Saad differentiates cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation by stating that appropriation "is a form of tokenizing and exoticizing while continuing to discard and dehuminize the actual people of that culture. Often times, the cultural elements that are appropriated are stripped of their original cultural context, meaning, and significance and used in such a way as to serve the pleasure of whiteness."(p.116)

 

She later spells out the harm of cultural appropriation much better than I can so I am quoting her extensively here. "What makes acts of cultural appropriation harmful is not the desire to share in a culture different from yours. Rather, it is the power dynamic between the dominant and nondominant cultures. Often, the appropriation is accompanied by an erasure of the nondominant cultures' origin story of that practice, while the dominant culture is able to profit - whether financially or socially - by the act of appropriation. What is seen as inferior, uncivilized, less advanced, savage, or ugly when owned by the nondominant culture is suddenly seen as superior, advanced, cultured, and beautiful when used by the dominant culture ... Cultural appropriation upholds the white supremist ideology that white people can take what they pick and choose from from Black and brown people without consequences and that when a person of white privilege adopts something from a black or brown culture, they are somehow enhanced because they have adopted something 'exotic'. Cultural appropriation is collecting the parts of blackness and browness that appeal to whiteness while discarding actual Black and Brown people. Lastly, cultural appropriation rewrites history with whiteness at the center." (p.118-119)

 

Cultural appropriation is something I have witnessed my whole life and yet it's concept is new to me. I am seeing for the first time how this practice further dehumizes and and diminishes both cultures and people from those cultures. I do know I'll be looking closely at how aspects of other cultures are used by whites and will certainly do my best to not support or participate anything that I perceive as culturally appropriated.

Copyright © 2020   Glenn Bigonet, M.A.