Cultural appropriation: aligning intention and impact.

Creativity and Cultural Imagination Part 1

Some of us are trying to return to an interdependant, interconnected, holistic way of being, as a part of the paradigm shift needed to heal violence, ecocide, racism and colonialism and restore the earth. 

If we are not indigenous, we are often tempted to use the cultural forms and traditions of indigenous cultures to do that, mistakenly thinking that we are extending and signal-boosting and learning from and leading with those forms of insight and wisdom. 

In fact, in appropriating indigenous culture, we are participating in cultural genocide of native people, no matter how loving our intentions may feel. This is one of the ways the racism works through us, distorting our best intentions desires to do its work. "But I respect and honor the indigenous culture from which the eagle feather comes" is the excuse we make, to show our appropriation is done in the name of good.

The intention is good but misdirected, and the impact is actual harm - not abstract, theoretical harm, but actual harm.

How to know if your work appropriates: Does using the cultural form you want to use give you more credibility, income, respect, coolness points, style, brand power, and recognition that it does for the original culture? If the originator culture is erased, supressed, oppressed, abused, forced into assimilation, humilated, or discriminiated against for using these cultural forms, and then you are given more power by using it, you are engaging in appropriation. Your work is not a part of signal-boosting the original meaning of the cultural form - your work is a part of diluting and erasing the power of that cultural form in its original community. It is a part of a long cycle of theft and erasure.

Make a commitment never to appropriate indigenous culture, no matter how much you long for something you see in it that you desperately want (and white people: we do have desperate longings here. They are good information for us: what if they were directed towards a tearing down of the construct of whiteness, and a return to the earth all all its people with humility, creativity, courage).

If you want to support indigenous world views and leadership and expand that leadership in the world, don't make brand images with feathers in your hair and face paint. Find out how to fight the oppression of indigenous people and listen deeply to what is needed of you as an ally.

And as for your own images?
This is an opportunity for you to reclaim your own true radical imagination, which is better for your goals, your business, your soul, and the world. The world wants your imagination alive, undistorted by the cultural and colonial urge to appropriate.

In making the choice not to appropriate as a strict rule in your life, you are not limiting anything. You are opening the potential for true radical imagination and creative liberation in your world as a co-creator of culture.