5.3 - Developing our Analysis - Appropriation in the Community

5.3 – Developing our Analysis – Appropriation in the Community – (1 hour 10 minutes)

Materials needed: Appropriation Resource Sheet, Personal and Community Appropriation Checklist/Cultural Appropriation Scenario, half sheets of paper, pens and pencils

Purpose of piece: To deepen understanding regarding types of appropriation, how they manifest in one’s life and community, and the underlying motivations.

Say to group: We’d first like to take a few minutes to review this resource sheet in order to ensure that we are starting with a similar understanding of the various types of appropriation, some typical examples, and the criticisms about them. Let’s take a few minutes for an individual, silent review. Feel free to begin sharing with a person next to you when you finish your silent review. And then we’ll talk though any questions we have as a group before we move into the activity. (Silent review, pair share, and group questions, 15 minutes)

Facilitator’s Note: The purpose of this review is to ensure that participants have a relative understanding of the issues and to provide a few moments for questions. It is not meant to become an extended argument over the correctness or incorrectness of the list. If participants question what has been included on the list, let the participants know that this is just one opinion among many. You can ask the participants to hold their concern about any particular example as something to consider further, maybe do additional research on later, and let them know that you’re hoping to get back to the specific purpose of this activity, which is to look closely at what is happening in our communities and why it happens.

Facilitator’s Note: If this activity is used in a multi-racial context, be sure to focus attention on the last paragraph of the Appropriation Resource Sheet.

What about people of color and appropriation?

  1. When people of color adopt patterns of the dominant, white culture this is often not considered appropriation. This may be assimilation. This is often done in order to survive and may be forced upon the minority culture by the dominant culture.
  2. Whether some people of color should be critiqued for taking on styles or traditions of other people of color is best left to people of color to negotiate amongst themselves. White people, as the dominant group in the U.S., can stay in right relationship to these issues by focusing on our own actions, instead of monitoring the actions of people of color.

Say to group: Using what we have learned so far, we’re now going to complete a Personal and Community Appropriation Checklist to see how appropriation is occurring in our lives and/or within our communities. Distribute the checklist. (Individual review, 5 minutes)

Pair share (5 minutes)

Say to group: In addition to learning more about cultural appropriation in order to avoid it personally, we also want to explore why people make the choices they do. This can help us as we encounter others who are actively appropriating and think that it is a compliment to the other culture or is an expression of appreciation. To explore this, we are going to review a scenario and talk about the motivations underlying the decisions. This scenario is located on the back of the checklist (Title – Cultural Appropriation Scenario). (5 minutes)

Group discussion: (20 minutes)

  1. Reflecting on this scenario, how is appropriation taking place, and what do you think is driving it for each person?
  2. Is there a meaningful difference between appropriation and appreciation? What is it?
  3. What sorts of cultural holes might these individuals be trying to fill?
  4. From what aspects of white culture might the people in this scenario be trying to distance themselves?

Facilitator’s Note: Some of the themes you want to pull out include the following:

  • What are we running away from? (cultural blandness, meaninglessness, oppressive history/relationship with whiteness, patriarchy, idea of humans as sinful, individualism etc.)
  • What are we running toward? (rich culture, sense of personal and community wholeness, inclusivity, communal values, respect for the earth/indigenous, earth-based values, etc.)
  • Be sure to highlight that U.S. white culture typically does not provide a sense of unconditional value and care that often characterizes indigenous and/or people of color communities. White people are frequently envious of people of color because we don’t have this sense of communal culture. And when we try to get it, we often reach across difference harmfully. We can be perceived as empty beings trying to gobble up something that isn’t ours. We appear dangerous.

Say to group: A common theme when talking about appropriation is that many of the underlying motivations to do it stem from either feeling dissatisfied with white (or western) culture or wanting to distance oneself from whiteness or modern society. We often face the question of whether we are appreciating another’s culture (which may not be so bad) or appropriating (and transgressing boundaries). For our purposes, we should consider the question of why we are moving toward another’s culture. What kind of cultural holes might we be trying to fill, and what kind of culture building would help decrease psychologically unhealthy forms of appropriation?

I’m going to pass out a set of half sheets of paper. What I’d like you to do is jot down words or phrases that would describe the culture you want to be part of. If that’s not clear, another way to say it is, if you could create an ideal culture for our society, what words would you use to describe it? How would you describe the community? (5 minutes)

Say to group: We’ll now take these papers and post them on the wall. Once they’re all posted, let’s take a few minutes to read our collective responses. (5 minutes)

Group debrief: (10 minutes)

  1. What stands out for you from this exploration of appropriation?
  2. How can this help us engage in more productive dialogues with others about issues of cultural appropriation?

Facilitator’s Note: The rationale for writing down what we wish our ideal culture looked like is that if we recognize that our current, dominant culture does not reflect our values, then we need to develop artistic and cultural practices that exemplify another way of being. The appropriation of practices and rituals from another culture will not ultimately satisfy the need for us to co-create a different culture for ourselves that exemplifies the values we hold dear.

Facilitator’s Note: For faith communities, an important additional resource for follow-up may be a 10-minute segment within the Decentering Whiteness in Worship Webinar available at: https://smallscreen.uua.org/videos/decentering-whiteness-in-worship-webinar. Beginning at 46 minutes, 50 seconds, the presenters engage in a 10 minute discussion on appropriation that includes issues of Dia de los Muertos rituals and Black spirituals being used within services.

Wrap up: As we can see from this exploration, there are many forms appropriation can take. What we’ve tried to highlight is that some occur because our modern, U.S. culture leaves many people dissatisfied and with a sense of cultural loss. Realizing this can help us support others to understand that we have the responsibility to try and create a culture for ourselves that is infused with the kind of community that we long to have.