Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation: Why It Matters

By Grant Loveless

Learning to understand a culture that is different than your own is so important in becoming a mindful citizen and leader. Developing the skill of cultural or cross-cultural competence is challenging, but worth the journey as it is an important way to identify, not only your own prejudices and biases towards BIPOC, but also ways in which your community, home or school can create equitable spaces for people who are underserved. With that said, cultural appropriation and appreciation is a continuous conversation that has “canceled” celebrities, addressed the trauma and microaggressions that BIPOC have to combat day-to-day, and has assisted in uplifting and supporting BIPOC and their cultures as well. In this article, four tips will be given to you to identify, address, and approach cultural appropriation and appreciation wherever you are.

First, let’s distinguish the two; appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally whereas appropriation is simply taking, adopting or “cherry-picking” one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it for your own personal interest. Simply, one requires permission (i.e cultural exchange) and the other is without.  With this simple exercise, we’ll see if you can identify the differences:

  • Purchasing a piece of jewelry or clothing that may have important cultural significance to that culture, but simply using it as a fashion statement.
    • (Appreciation or Appreciation)
  • Supporting an African artist by purchasing designs directly from them. 
    • (Appreciation or Appreciation)
  • Capturing a photo of a ritual ceremony simply for the sake of getting as many likes on Facebook as possible. 
    • (Appreciation or Appreciation)
  • Wearing a South Asian bindi when invited to do so at an Indian festival.
    •  (Appreciation or Appreciation)

In all, taking a part of another culture without understanding what it truly means can be harmful not only to those whose culture you are using but also to those with whom you share it.

Through an interview with Dr. Khayree Williams, Austin Community College’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center Director, self-journeying strategies were developed to understand and identify  appropriation and appreciation in your own communities, schools, homes and even get-togethers with friends:

  1. Examine your own culture. Through self-reflection and evaluation, you will be better able to understand differences and determine what is important in cultures across the world.  If you realize that a specific aspect of your own cultural background is the foundation to your identity, and it would offend you if someone were to use it without understanding fully what it means, consider that people all over the world, in cultures other than your own, may feel exactly the same way.
    1. Think about: Would I be offended if someone wore an important aspect of culture without understanding what it truly means?
  2. Listen & be mindful:  As Williams said, “The greatest way to become knowledgeable and appreciate another culture is by listening and being mindful  to those who are a part of the fabric of that culture or society.”  From that, your task is to listen to their stories, gain insight on the implications behind the aspects of their culture that you are interested in, and utilize that dialogue(s) to broaden your worldview.
    1. Think about: I recently purchased a well-decorated scarf from a Native-American artist.  Did I take time to discuss with the artist who created the piece to learn more about their background, what their work means to them, and how it fits into the foundation of their identity? If not, I may be appropriating instead of appreciating.
  3. Analyze the context: What does a symbol or outfit mean to a specific culture? When and where is it appropriate to use it? Grasp what the various aspects of a culture are and why they are so crucial.  If you really have an interest in a person’s culture or heritage, more than likely, they will be elated to share with you the aspects that matter to them.
    1. Think about: Did I just take a piece of someone’s culture to use for my own benefit, without knowing the significance behind it? Did I ask about the origins of the custom, item, or symbol?  This is so important in understanding and appreciating a culture.
  4. Be open to teach and share your own culture: The most meaningful part of cultural exchange – and what best tells the difference from appropriation is that exchange is mutual.  Williams said, “At ACC, through my work, I am able to teach and help others understand who they are, how to gain insight and a unique perspective about someone else or a group and create those relationships and a shared understanding of someone and their background and culture.”
    1. Think about: Am I equally interested in sharing a piece of my culture and heritage with someone else? Chances are, this person is just as eager to learn about my culture as I am about theirs.  This is a beautiful and warming component of cultural exchange and appreciation! 

Be mindful, do not stop being curious, and learning and appreciating other cultures. Do it properly, with guidance and mindfulness and you will be the change needed to uplift and amplify the voices of BIPOC whose language, food, and traditions are deeply rooted in who they are.

Being on the Front Lines of Advocacy, Change and Justice

We Are Here & We Will Be Seen

By: Grant E. Loveless

grant lovelessIn America we are young, tired and traumatized. We are tired of validating our space, our existence and the reason why we should have a seat at the table. Youth are continuously ignored, being dismissed, and unheard. Stereotyping youth as “too young” or “not experienced enough” has been a
consistent strategy to devalue the movements that we create.

Youth are dying. Bullets piercing our skin, the hands of our “ protectors ” bruise us, while the weight of our own communities burden us with expectations that we, as a future generation, are expected to embrace.
Not only do we confront our internalized trauma while witnessing the oppressive realities of our world, we also resist the tendency to reduce youth experiences into pure statistics, devoid of socio-political meaning. We know that if we die at the hands of police, justice will not be served within the “ justice ” system and will be left as a number to the added list of Black and brown bodies whose blood is stained in our streets at the root of America’s issue: racism. We should not have to experience the moments that are supposed to be the cornerstone of our lives in fear and uncertainty.
However, we conjured our power to disrupt the day-to-day uncertainties, disadvantages and injustices. We as youth have blossomed into an impalpable force to where youth advocates like Nahjah and Nashon Wilson in Stafford, VA; the four women who built the Teens4Equality organization in Nashville, TN; Mical Juliet, Franki Phoenix, Zauvier Fenceroy and myself in Austin, Texas continue to push for public and social policy reform, collaborative change and economic justice. With our efforts being recognized it is imperative that we continue to prepare youth for what is to come. As U.S Senator Cory Booker said, “ You don’t have to be one of those people that accepts things as they are. Every day, take responsibility for changing them right where you are.”

Below are five tips for youth I have created from my experience as a Youth Advocate and Student Leader in the City of Austin to begin their journey into advocacy, community activism and social entrepreneurship.

You are your Number One Priority
If you do not take care of yourself how can you serve others at the best capacity you can. Self care is about self-reflection and it’s a journey. Learning and establishing a self care routine does not happen overnight, it takes time. You may be thinking, what does self care mean? Well, self care is ambiguous. Self care means knowing who you are and understanding
your limits; developing a good sleeping pattern and eating habits; constructing ways to decompress and realign your mind, spirit and energy; taking time to know yourself, your goals and how you want to manifest the change-maker you want to be; identifying what you love and hate or what motivates and discourages you. Self care can be simply defined as self love,
but on that journey to that you first must identify your “why” and thrive.

Find Your “Why” and Your Vision
To find your “why” and your vision you must: identify your core values;
discover who inspires you, who motivates you to be the catalyst of change in your community; and understand that your vision takes time to develop and grow. It will change, shift and possibly renew itself over time. With developing your “why” and vision you cannot put your hands in multiple pots, overwhelming and stressing yourself. Take your time and volunteer with local organizations,reach out to community members whose interests align with yours and ask questions or do a journey of self-discovery and read books, articles or blogs to gain knowledge on your interests and whichever topic you feel touches your soul start pursuing it. However, with this journey you must understand not everyone will agree with your stance nor stand with you when you need support.

Be Aware of Who Is For You and Against You
In the world of advocacy and on your way to achieving justice and change you will have your allies and opposes. Not everyone will agree with your values, ideas or your right to have a seat at the table. You must be prepared for that realization and “no” to your cause. However, this should never discourage you. Utilize your colleagues, close peers, past and current employers, teachers or anyone who is interested in investing in you and form a community. Once you have a community backing you up, you will be unstoppable. If you are not given a seat at the table build your own table and create the change you want to see. Your existence does not need validation, you are a force and a resistance.

Time Management
Do not overwhelm, stress or burden yourself trying to take advantage of every opportunity and the issues damaging your communities. Establish a foundation for your brand and the issues you want to solve in your community as well as using your local community members and organizations to further your goals. When you use time managing tools like Trello, Asana, Google Calendar or even the Reminders app on your phone you can then begin implementing strategies to your success on how much time you are allocating for the issues you want to solve and the commitments you are going to take on.

You Are NEVER Alone
You are never alone. Whatever country, state, city or town you reside in there are organizations and individuals who will support, uplift and cherish the work you do. Remember it doesn’t matter what platform you use, it’s about the work you produce and the presence you create when you walk into a room. You will never be alone, we are here always.

I urge you to utilize these tips and start generating the momentum you want to see your community taking in approaching and addressing structures of ageism, racism, xenophobia or any sign of inequity. Start now.
Author a call-to-action plan. Engage with your communities. Mobilize and create change.

In Solidarity Say & Remember Their Names
Brad Levi Ayala | Cameron Tillman | Carey Smith-Viramontes | Diana Showman | Dillon McGee | Emantic “EJ” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr | Elijah Tufono | Jeffrey Holden | Joshua Dariandre Ruffin |Justin Howell | Laquan McDonald | Levi Weaver | Roshad McIntosh | Sarah Grossman | Sean Monterrosa | Tamir Rice | VonDerrit Myers Jr. | Zauvier Feneceroy