MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the wake of George Floyd’s death, more and more people are having raw conversations about race in America.

One of those conversations: “What is Cultural Appropriation?”

The term isn’t even in the dictionary, but there are examples of it everywhere — from old time pioneers to current celebrities, some examples of cultural appropriation are subtle, others blatant, as civil rights scholar Dr. Yohuru Williams of the University of St. Thomas says it’s complicated.

“Its obvious when we are talking about the obvious ones, Blackface or the use of the N-word, it becomes more complicated when we are talking about things that are actually celebratory,” Dr. Yohuru Williams said.

Like hair braiding for instance. Hawanya Hopson of Maple Grove used the example, “Me as a Black woman wearing braids is going to be a completely different meaning than you as a White woman wearing braids.”

Hawanya Hopson of Maple Grove and her teenage daughter talked to us about the history of braids — as it used to be a durable style slaves would use — and then years later Bo Derrick debuted braids of her own.

“Black women have been put out of jobs or can’t do cheer because of their hairstyles but if a white women gets Bo braids. They can do that and wear that it’s considered trendy and edgy, meanwhile, we’re seen as unprofessional,” said Hawayna’s daughter Haniya Hopson, a Maple Grove High School Senior.

And that Dr. Williams says is cultural appropriation.

“It’s the usage of symbols, music or attributes of a culture that you admire for the purpose of fetishizing that culture,” Dr. Williams said.

He says it can be seen in music, food, mascots and holiday costumes.

Sharon Day is executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force in Minneapolis.

“It is harmful and it is harmful to that the young white child whose dressing up like an Indian as much as to the Native kid whose meeting them on the street, its harmful to both of them,” Day said.

She says from hairstyles to headdresses, people profit off the native culture without understanding the country’s history.

“When those things are taught, that’s when people will understand about cultural appropriation,” she said.

WCCO asked Dr. Williams, “How do you appreciate a culture without appropriating it?”

Dr. Williams says it’s important to buy clothes, eat food and listen to music from other cultures, while keeping this question in mind: “What is the impact on the community you are appropriating that from because in a way that is its own litmus test?”

Dr. Williams says another way to avoid appropriation is if you do choose to buy clothes, eat food, or listen to music from other cultures, make sure the person who is profiting is from that culture.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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