Appropriation vs. Creative Activism

I’ve been thinking lately about cultural appropriation and how to avoid it.  My principle concern comes from the fact that I am fascinated by indigenous cultures and indigenous activism.  I’ve read some really interesting accounts in my study of human rights on indigenous movements and creative solutions to common activist problems. But I’ve wondered if identifying with and being interested in these movements is a bad thing, especially when I’m thinking about how to apply indigenous ideas to activist movements in the United States as a white, middle class individual.

There was a post on cultural appropriation at Bitch Magazine that presented a really helpful guiding line for this problem.  Basically, it’s about attribution.  White people tend to appropriate the ideas of nonwhite people and of marginalized groups in general, whether queer, disabled, indigenous, or something else, and then claim them as their own–directly or through silence.  What this says to me (and correct me if I’m wrong), is that it’s good to recognize the creativity of solutions presented by marginalized people, and to incorporate them into, or use them as the basis for, an activist movement.  But it is essential to attribute those ideas to that group, and to the individuals that have expressed them.  It is not okay to take the ideas out of context, to strip away their origins, and to exclude those who presented the ideas in the first place.


About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on September 6, 2010, in activism, development, pop culture, privilege, race and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Giving credit where credit is due is part of this.

    It also includes compensating people financially, sometimes (if you are reprinting something that they wrote, frex).

    If you are using a resource that someone else developed, you could also do a non-financial exchange (like providing them with access to something that might be useful for their work).

  2. Great post and nice thought provoking question to consider. I’d suggest that a good framework to better understand cultural appropriate is as follows:

    1) Do I actually understand the history and significance of the practice?
    2) If I do, am I empathizing and honoring the history and significance in my own practice?
    3) Am I capable and willing to communicate about what value I see in the history and significance of the practice?

    If the answer to 1) is no, then it is cultural appropriation.
    If the answer to 1) is yes, and 2) is no, it’s cultural appropriation
    If the answer to 1) is yes, 2) is yes, and 3) is no, it’s cultural appropriation.

    Cultural appropriation is rooted in willful ignorance.

    Mainstreaming and minimization (both of which are rooted in difference blindness, and often applied with the best intentions) are also fundamental culprits.

    Genuine curiosity and interest in other people’s experiences and how those experiences are DIFFERENT than our own is the the first round of treatment. Valuing other people’s experiences and differences is the cure.

    Keep up the great work.

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