Cultural Exchange vs. Cultural Appropriation

Cultural Not a Costume2During the 2001-2002 school year, I was the President of the Student Senate (and Vice President of the Student Body) at North Carolina State University. I attended the Conference on Student Government Associations (COSGA) at Texas A&M University with a group of fellow student government leaders. One night was a thematic night where we were to “dress up” in Texas attire for that night’s festivities. Being a “city-boy,” I only had a vague idea of what that meant. Yet, I had no problem with taking a great deal of liberty “dressing up” like a cowboy, or what I thought looked like a cowboy. It was bad. Think of me, in overalls, a belt around said overalls, Timberland boots, a straw hat, and a plaid shirt. Again, it was bad. I wasn’t the only one, a few others with me were also dressed up in their cowboy best and we all looked a mess. We then proceeded to walk into a local establishment, where many a’real cowboy sat, and walk through as if we would blend in. We did not. In fact, we looked like fools. But that’s OK right? We were, after all, just playing dress up, and knew that we looked a bit foolish anyway – so that didn’t matter much.

What did matter to me was the obvious disgust, hurt, and offense that I saw on the faces that we passed. In that moment, all at once, I realized just how dangerous and hurtful playing dress up can be. We felt so ashamed that we left immediately, and changed clothes. I was embarrassed and hurt that I took what was essentially the everyday experience and culture of another group of people, and knowingly mocked it for my own enjoyment. My people and my culture for centuries have had this very same thing done to them. I knew better, and yet I didn’t do better.

I share this story now after reading an amazing article written by Jarune Uwujaren in Everyday Feminism, on the website Good Men Project. It was written with such care, balance, pace, action-orientation, and tone that I had to write about it and share. The article, What’s the Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation?, and its tenets are something that should be talked about in homes, work places, and schools across this country. In particular during this season, when at the end of the month many across the U.S. will celebrate Halloween. College campuses are notorious for hosting parties where people go beyond just dressing up as fictional characters for fun. They take the extra step to make the people with whom they interact with everyday, caricatures for their night of fun and revelry.

This has happened at colleges and universities where I have attended, and worked. I was happy to see students at Ohio University create an amazing campaign a few years ago, where they declared “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume.” Cultural Not a CostumeThis campaign beautifully captures the damage that can be done by thoughtless celebration. Check it out, and share it with others. More important, do something about it. Whether you are a student, employer, employee, or volunteer, read the article above, do your own work to gain wisdom and understanding. And please, share this with those who need to see it.

Dr. Anthony

Only Light Can Do That

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As we move past yet another 9/11, I am reminded of the relevance of this quote in both my life and in my work.

Much has changed since my last post. I have been blessed to have my family move up with me finally, we have found an amazing condo in Rogers Park in Chicago, I am affirmed daily in the work I do at my new job, and we have began to find a new spiritual home on the South end of Chicago. I wanted to quickly post this as a reminder that despite all the horrible despair that we face day to day (crime, death, genocide, hunger, poverty, discrimination, fear, depression, etc.) that these things can only be overcome through our commitment to shine light in the darkest corners of our existence. What is really cool is that we don’t have to do it alone. I was reminded by a friend yesterday who was in a dark place, that the universe has a way of conspiring to support and lift us up when we most need it. That’s really a fancy way of saying “we” as individuals decided to take a moment to shine light in the lives of others. What is the light? It’s a smile, a phone call, a flower left on a desk, a perfectly timed joke when you’re not in a joking mood. Lights’ natural inclination is not to hide, but to shine. Only when we prevent it from doing so, do we find ourselves surrounded by darkness. Dark thoughts, dark people, and dark situations.

In my work as an educator and diversity advocate, I find it very easy to be consumed by the darkest actions and thoughts of others. It is during that time I seek the darkness to fight back – thinking its the only way to combat such persistent ugliness that surrounds us. In fact, that is the worst possible action I could take. Darkness is only permitted to exist in the absence of light, not the other way around. So I remember that, as I start each day, trying to bring light and love into the work I do. From the smallest conversation, to the biggest cultural shifts we need to make – I will be positive, and try to use my light to chase away the darkness.

Dr. Anthony

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Go Places and Do Things

Happy New Year to all, and I hope your holidays were safe and fulfilling. I’m happy to get back to blogging and hopefully helping whoever reads this have an “ah-ha” moment that will get them through the day, week, month, or year. I believe we reap what we sow, so this continues to be my attempt to sow good seeds of positive change.

I don’t do resolutions, not anymore at least; but what about a “proclamation?” I laughed when my brother JD said this to me, because proclamation sounds a lot like resolution to me, but hey, I figured I’ll play along. So as we went around the room talking about our proclamations – my partner said something so profound and so “her,” which was that she hopes 2012 brings more blessings and growth in all aspects of our life. She wasn’t knocking 2011, it was a great year in many ways for our family, in fact. I’ll count some of those blessings in a second, but let’s think about my partner’s proclamation for a minute…it’s beautifully simplistic, and a great way to approach your new year! You are proclaiming (meaning it is going to happen) that your year will be better than the last! And how cool is it that you can purpose that in a way that it will come true. So first let me rattle off some of my many blessings (not in order of importance) to model what you need to do right now (and I literally mean you should WRITE THEM OUT):

  • Appointed to my permanent position
  • Expanded my business
  • My father-in-law is still here! (he wasn’t expected to make it to Thanksgiving 2010 due to cancer – alas, he is here!)
  • My daughter turned 2 and my partner, me, mom, dad and a whole lot of others are a year older!
  • We celebrated 4 years of marriage
  • DADT was repealed
  • NC State won their bowl game! (sorry Cards)
  • My partner graduated from college
  • Both of my brothers got new positions and moved up in their jobs
  • I led TWO LeaderShape sessions and had two amazing co-leads
  • We had another great Wilson family reunion (and won the Bid Whist Tourny – BOOM)

The list goes on and on…

Throughout this year I will take time to encourage you all to count your blessings, not for bragging sake, but because it can reaffirm the good work that you are doing in your life, and maybe remind you of what gaps you have yet to fill. Now for 2012…if you need help proclaiming what you will do this year, maybe I can help. Its a fair assumption that people may not know what they want from the year, or they dare not say it because it seems so out of reach. In a leadership class I used to teach, in our class about sustaining relationships, I would tell students that they needed to GO PLACES AND DO THINGS. Wow! How important is that! Not only for sustaining relationships, but for building new ones, appreciating your own existence, learning about others, feeling connected to the world that is so vast and wonderful. So your first proclamation is to GO PLACES AND DO THINGS. Whether you are a seasoned traveler or a first time flyer/traveler, it is good for the soul, trust me. Here are some tips to get started and get the most out of your “going and doing”: 

  1. Locate a place that is “culturally” different from you (e.g., another part of town, another city/state/country, place of worship where no one talks or looks like you, etc.). Notice these don’t require an expense account to do this.
  2. Before you go, read something (objective/academic) about where you are going. This will help you a great deal in appreciating the “going and doing.”
  3. Tell people about it! You never know who may want to help you get there, go with you, or have experience in that culture.
  4. Meet someone while there and exchange information with them. Follow up with them on a regular basis. Wanna know how to lead and follow in diverse environments? Build relationships with people different from yourself – you’ll be forever changed:)
  5. Write about it. Don’t let the feelings, the ah-ha’s, the anxieties escape you. John Maxwell said that reflection is like the crock-pot of the mind – let the thoughts simmer until they are ready. You have to capture those moments if you are ever to make meaning of them.

So there you have it, your first proclamation for 2012. Now share this with people you care about, and set out to do it. Look at that, you’ve already made 2012 a better year than 2011!

Top Down Bigotry and Ignorance – #overit

David Williams assails Steve Beshear over participation in Hindu prayer ceremony | The Courier-Journal | courier-journal.com.

I don’t pretend to know everything about everything…well I kinda do, but I am willing to talk about why I believe what I believe. And I’m not so intellectually arrogant as to think that everything I say or think or believe is the “gospel” truth (forgive the pun). This story was pure disheartening, as I work everyday to try and build acceptance, positive dialogue, and compassion across differences. In one statement, David Williams has reminded me of why my work remains relevant. For those who don’t know reading this, David Williams is the President of the Kentucky State Senate, and currently the republican candidate for Governor of Kentucky.

Without giving the whole God is love argument, or Jesus said to love each other above all else argument (because many Christians already know that and don’t care about that part). Let me just ask a simple question to Mr. Williams and others who may align with his thinking…why? Why do you think its a good idea to publicly say something as off-putting as this? Why do you feel it necessary to offend a company, people, and religion that is bringing jobs and revenue to your state? Why did you feel this was appropriate in any context, as a public government official to say the things you said? Why are you so insecure in your faith that you can’t even allow someone else to be a part of a prayer service from a different faith?

I’m done being PC about calling out ignorance. I have no patience for this type of top down foolishness and pure insensitivity from our so called leaders. You are a small minded, inconsiderate, thoughtless individual who would benefit from thinking before he speaks. Is that fair to say about someone I don’t even know, not at all, but fairness or justice isn’t what motivated this post. It’s ignorance – so allow me to be ignorant too. You won’t make me embarrassed to be a Christian, you’re not big enough for that. But you make me disgusted to be affiliated with the Commonwealth that you represent. Gov. Beshear makes me proud. You will lose the gubernatorial race. Period. Your recent actions only prove how desperate and futile your efforts will ultimately be. I’ll ask my Hindu brothers and sisters to say a prayer of thanksgiving with my Christian brothers and sisters when you fall on election day. #overit.

Students protest new study on diversity efforts – WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Students protest new study on diversity efforts – WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports.

What I appreciate most about this story are the beautiful faces from all backgrounds standing together. Despite your beliefs about affirmative action, we can all value the love these students have shown each other!