Appreciation or Appropriation?

  For our project, our goal was to bring attention to cultural appropriation, which is a societal issue that is seldom addressed. We wanted to help others understand how much they can negatively impact and oppress certain racial groups by ignoring the historical context of and borrowing another’s culture. In order to achieve this goal, we interviewed a sample of UMBC students and asked them 5-6 questions regarding the topic of cultural appropriation. Our interview questions were meant to gauge our interviewees’ feelings and knowledge about the individual effects of cultural appropriation, specifically the appropriation of Black culture. We managed to gather a diverse sample of people with varying amounts of knowledge on the topic in order to successfully create a 7-8 minute video on the prevalence and significance of Black cultural appropriation.

  We collectively decided to work on this topic because we believe that it is not only commonly ignored and minimized, but also directly affects us. Informing others of this issue is important because appropriating Black culture devalues the significance of Black culture and negatively impacts the Black community. It is imperative that we draw attention to this issue because borrowing one’s culture is exploitative and oppressive. The dominant group that does the appropriating is seen as innovative and edgy, whereas the minority group continues to face negative stereotypes, which suggests that their race lacks creativity and intelligence. Additionally, those who appropriate Black culture often make profit from it, which deprives the Black community of proper recognition and compensation for their culture which, consequently, helps to keep the Black community as a marginalized group.

  Although cultural appropriation has been a major topic of discussion in this day and age, it is not new and has been happening for years. For our project we not only wanted to incorporate current examples of appropriation, but also past ones as well.  To make our project as intersectional as possible, we found examples of cultural appropriation in music, fashion, art, lifestyle, and so much more. (A few of these examples can be found at the bottom of this post)

 Regarding obstacles in this project, as some of us anticipated, many of the people that we approached were hesitant to participate in our video upon hearing the topic. The topic of cultural appropriation is a touchy subject for many and puts these groups in an awkward position when asked to address the issue. This made it difficult for us to find non-Black people that felt comfortable answering our questions. Through trial and error, we found that by simply stating that our project is about “culture”, rather than specifying “cultural appropriation”, more non-Black students were willing to participate in the video. This allowed us to get raw and unbiased responses. We also learned that more students were open to being in the video when we reassured them that the video would only be shown to our professor.

  Before starting this project, we each understood activism to be something way out of our reach. We assumed that in order to have people hear our ideas, we would need to be apart of some larger organization. However, we learned early in this course that activism takes on many forms and anybody can be an activist. Simply expressing your feelings and viewpoints to someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with you can be activism. We have also learned to appreciate this practice as it is truly admirable to see someone fight for what they believe in and go to no end until they achieve their goals.

  As activists, we learned that everyone’s individual strengths play a role in “doing” activism. As activists we learned that not everything goes as planned or perfectly the way you would like. Activism starts with our own ideas, which produce our desire and effort to change what we think needs adjustment. As activists, we understand that there can be different perspectives and talents that come together to contribute to the shared belief of changing the world around us.

  Before this project we felt like only certain things counted as activism, such as protests and marches. This project really showed us that doing activism in your daily life is just as important. We also learned that, even on a small scale, you can still incite change. We learned that activism works not only at different levels, but also with different intentions. Both violent and nonviolent activism function with their own sets of intentions and downsides. Activism exists on several social levels that use different strategies and theoretical frameworks to work towards spreading a message.

  In general, we learned that activism can take a variety of forms and that there isn’t just one concrete version of activism. Activism is the act of applying and advocating for your beliefs/core values in any setting. We displayed our activism on campus by simply informing the uninformed about an issue that we believe should be addressed.

Link to Final Video:

Here are a few of our examples.

Image result for amandla black cultureImage result for ghetto vs high fashion

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