You may have noticed that I rarely offer a yes-or-no stance on cultural misappropriation, in part because it’s a super complex, gray area type of situation.
Are there some things that are 100% obviously taboo? Absolutely!
Like black-face. Wrong. Uh-uh. No way.
Other things may feel a little more obscure to some folks, while being extremely obvious to others.
Here’s an example… Let’s say your grandmother was thrown in jail for making chamomile tea. Then the grandchildren of the people who locked her up, started making chamomile tea and selling it. While you, the grandchild of the original chamomile maker were raised to not do that because it could get you thrown in jail and also because chamomile has special cultural rules around it, including not trading it for money.
Can you imagine how you’d feel watching those people making money off of a sacred act that your ancestors were jailed for?
Now make the story about indigenous Native Americans and smudging with sage. Or sweetgrass. Or any number of their cultural elements widely seen today.
Yes, first nations peoples were persecuted for religious practices until 1978 in some places. That’s the year I was born. That’s not that long ago. (Hey, I still get carded. Okay, sometimes, I get carded).
Being a cultural orphan myself, the way I personally look at appropriation is not so much about the question “Can I do XYZ?”
Rather, “How would the original people who did XYZ feel about me doing it?”
There are lots of other questions I ask myself while exploring this concept… like do I know of all the cultures where it was practiced and why they did it?
Do I know the protocols and taboos around it?
Did I learn the practice from the original source?
Did I get permission to practice it? To share it?
Am I profiting off of someone else’s current or past suppression?
If it feels important to continue the practice, how can I make reparations or amends in the process?
When it comes to the conversation of cultural appropriation, I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. Hell, I don’t have any of the answers!
But I find the greatest value in asking the questions.
Being willing to have the hard conversations.
Listening for the answers, from others and from within.
Then acting accordingly.
We are on a long and winding road of healing ourselves and the relationships between groups of people who have been harmed. Let’s all set the intention to proceed with love and awareness.