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Appropriate Cultural Appreciation

By Renee Bracey Sherman, contributor to the Strong Families project Echoing Ida.

If you’ve been watching the news, watching your Twitter feed, or posts on Facebook, many people have been discussing Miley Cyrus’ recent MTV Video Music Award performance in which she attempted to “twerk” on stage and on singer Robin Thicke during their duet of his song Blurred Lines. Lately much has been discussed about the rape culture language in his song and the sexual awkwardness of their performance in general, but most of the conversation has been about whether or not her performance was an appropriation of Black culture. As I perused through the social media conversations, I noticed a common thread: not everyone knows what cultural appropriation is.

So, let’s discuss and learn – what is cultural appropriation?

The short answer is when one from a privileged community uses something (a justice movement, style of clothing, dance, language, etc.) that is a part of a minority community’s culture and uses it as their own without citing credit, and often doing it wrong. In school, we have a similar idea called plagiarism, and students are held accountable for it. Cultural appropriation happens a lot. So much so, that we often don’t notice it when it happens.

Remember Madonna’s famous ‘Vogue’ song? Of course you do. It topped the charts and still gets played…everywhere. Did you know vogueing, which originated as a style of dance performed by gay men and transwomen of color in ...

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