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Walk the line between gratitude and diversion

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If you’ve participated in conversations about cultural appropriation and appreciation of culture, you know that there are subtle differences between these discussions. From curious conversations to heated debates, individual opinions are often influenced by different levels of cultural humility and curiosity. (Adele wearing a bantu knot, Jeremy Lin’s dreadlocks, Elvis Presley building his legacy without explicitly recognizing the strong influence of black musicians, or Amy Winehouse with the sound of Motown Think of it as adopting many of the styles.)

As explained here, cultural appropriation occurs when someone claims ownership of another cultural norm or tradition without considering or recognizing the first source. And the louder and more influential in our society, the more diversion can underestimate the voice, influence and importance of the original culture.

Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, means that an individual or a community of people engages in another cultural norm or tradition while acknowledging their source. This is common throughout the arts, music, poetry, rituals and stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. When witnessing these retellings with cultural appreciation, we listen to understanding the intent and voice behind the message and truly grasping the context of the story.

The decisive difference between diversion and appreciation often results in cultural humility. Before working on anything, it is imperative to be interested in its origins, learn as much as possible, and give proper credit.

Where do you draw the line?

Is there anyone or a group that can define the boundaries of art, music and cultural customs? And how can people engage in respect for cultural practices outside the norms of cultural identity, proximity, family and environment?

Explore in the context of music.

The discussion about Elvis Presley and Amy Winehouse was previously referenced. You’ve probably heard a backlash about this debate. They say, “I just want to enjoy music,” and I don’t have to explore its historical background.

But what connects people to music, emotions, surprises and awe, essentially stimulates curiosity to learn about its origins. Then, by looking back on the context and message that conveys the sound and lyrics, the meaning and enjoyment will deepen. (There is also the privilege of ignoring the origins of different types of music.)

So how do you walk the line between gratitude and diversion and engage with respect?

  • Do your research. Learn about people who were once criticized for displaying certain styles, looks, and sounds that are ubiquitous in mainstream culture.
  • Consider the privileges you may have Continuing discrimination faced by the original creators of styles and art forms when using these practices without proper recognition of the source. Participation enhances and recognizes those who have historically been ridiculed, shunned and harmed.
  • Supporting art from the community that creates itThis is in contrast to copying what you see on social media and pasting it into the next trend.
  • Attribute cultural norms to the community that created them. When incorporating other cultural aspects into your life and daily habits, give enough credit and keep in mind that your habits can have a greater impact.

In music and art, the distinction between appreciation and diversion often results in the purpose of performance: empowering and respecting historical values, or profiting from them. But how do you distinguish it in other areas such as health?

Promote race and health fairness through humility and gratitude

Where I work at Blue Cross, they have long been committed to promoting racial and health fairness. An important lesson of this journey they have learned is that there is never a story or solution to reach the ultimate goal. Mainstream mainstream thinking often argues that the goal is to “correct” a particular community or illness. This is an approach that perpetuates the spirit of the “white savior.”

What is needed instead, and what Blue Cross is working on, is to truly listen, partner, build trust, and share power with the community in which it is served. The community knows best about the health inequality they experience and the solutions that have the greatest impact.

As mainstream organizations continue to be involved in comminutes, it is important to engage in community conversations with humility, respect and curiosity, especially in terms of cultural norms, communities and historical truths. Admit that you don’t know that you don’t. What we know is based on our living experience and proximity. The only way to learn and move forward is to respect and celebrate our differences.

This approach prevents you from copying and pasting statistics into your solution without cultural and historical context. Instead, we can all dig deeper into the stories shared by the community and understand their perspectives, wisdom, and solutions.

About the author: Tatyana Ymani Beck is a Sustainability Program Manager and Implementation Leader for Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Minnesota. She is also an active member of the Twin Cities dance community as an artist and street style dancer.


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