CULTURAL APPRECIATION AND CULTURAL APPROPRIATION
AN INTRODUCTORY GUIDE

Cultural appreciation:

Celebrating or honouring aspects of a culture by someone not of that culture in a way that is permitted, respectful, genuine, and meaningful.

Cultural appropriation:

Non-permitted, inappropriate and/or disrespectful use of aspects of a culture by someone not of that culture.

Isn't that just... cultural exchange? globalisation?

Global mobility and technology have made it easier for people to share their cultures.

 

A community or individual choosing to share parts of their culture is very different to taking and replicating the parts that you like.

 

Taking without permission is disrespectful to the knowledge and authority of people over their culture, and reinforces marginalisation.

So, what's the issue?

Cultural appropriation can have a number of negative impacts, including, but not limited to:

  • Breaking of protocol

  • Reinforcing power imbalances

  • Promoting racial stereotyping

  • Inflicting offense, stress, anxiety, tension and/or humiliation

  • Taking opportunities

  • Misplacing credit

For example:

Cultural appreciation:

Attending a smoking ceremony hosted by a Traditional Custodian.

 

Cultural appropriation:

Hosting your own smoking ceremony as a non-Indigenous person.

This appropriates cultural knowledge and takes economic opportunities away from Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples.​​

Cultural appreciation:

Purchasing artwork by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artist (either directly from the artist, an art centre or other credible space) to display in your home or workplace.

Cultural appropriation:

Doing your own interpretation of 'Aboriginal art' for a hobby or to sell.

This appropriates cultural knowledge and takes economic opportunities away from Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Cultural appreciation:

Wearing a footy guernsey of your favourite Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander player.

Cultural appropriation:

Dressing up as that player for a party by painting your skin.

This promotes racial stereotyping and can inflict offense, stress, anxiety, tension and/or humiliation​​

Cultural appreciation:

Attending an event with dancers from Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait Islands).

Cultural appropriation:

Attempting to mimic dances of Zenadth Kes in your own dance routine.

This appropriates cultural knowledge and can inflict offense, stress, anxiety, tension and/or humiliation.

How do I learn more?

  • Research widely and look for resources by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

  • If your research presents conflicting perspectives, don't do it.

  • If you haven't been invited to participate by someone of that culture, don't do it.

Ask yourself: 

  • Could I make someone feel uncomfortable and/or disrespected?

  • Am I being invited to participate in this practice?

  • Am I in a position of power or privilege?

  • Have I researched widely from reliable and valid sources?

  • Do I understand this practice?

  • Is what I'm doing perpetuating stereotypes?

  • Is this the best way I can show respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture?

This content was posted on Blak Business' Instagram on 17 June 2021. 

The following are some of the top comments and their responses.

Note: these responses do not reflect the opinions of all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples but serve to provide some insight. 

Q: I was given second hand clothing for my little boy, including a t-shirt with the Aboriginal flag. I don't know where the shirt is from and I'm aware that there is some problems with the 'ownership' of the flag. At first I thought he could wear it as ally but now not I'm not sure?

BB: The flag is a particularly difficult one.. some mob (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) may wear the flag to signal their Aboriginality, and may read another person wearing the flag as also being a Blakfella... Others may see no issue with gubbas (non-Indigenous peoples) wearing the flag. 

For more information, visit here.

Q: I work for the Department of Education and they release Indigenous shirts. I've got one and wear it regularly, I love the design. Is this ok? I'm sure the Department would make sure the artists are paid appropriately. 

BB: Yes, I've heard about Government Departments doing this... it would be worth checking where they come from. If you're wearing it, be confident to answer questions about it. 

Q: My kids have done Indigenous style dot paintings at school which makes me feel uncomfortable as they are non-Indigenous and neither is the teacher. It's usually been in the context of learning about Indigenous culture and reconciliation, but do you think there are better ways to do this?

BB: Here’s 10 ways to teach kids about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, without encouraging them to appropriate art:

  1. Learn Taba Naba with Christine Anu and the Wiggles

  2. Read books by Blak authors

  3. Watch Dust Echoes or NITV kids programs

  4. Attend a NAIDOC event

  5. Learn what Country you’re on together

  6. Learn and practice an acknowledgment of Country together

  7. Colour in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, or buy a colouring in book from Iluka Designs

  8. Display artwork by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artists

  9. Encourage school to invite in Traditional Custodians or community members lander topics

  10. Normalise talking and researching about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander topics

I don’t see how we expect that children who have been encouraged to copy Aboriginal art will then grow up to know that’s not ok!

Q: My children have been exposed to Indigenous art at school as part of their art classes. To my knowledge their teacher is not Indigenous. Sometimes they have come home with artwork that I presume has been intended to reproduce Indigenous art. What if they spontaneously incorporate some of those style elements when doing their own creative artwork at home? I am now wondering whether I should be advocating with the school for that part of their curriculum to be lead by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person?

BB: My thought is always: how is it logical or reasonable to encourage children to copy or “be inspired” by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander art and then expect them to know when they grow up this isn’t ok? Is this encouraging ignorance? This my lead young people to do things like what happened with Nicole Onswloe and Berlei Australia

Q: Can you spare some thoughts on indigenous food/bush tucker?
There is great attention in the hospitality industry about using native ingredients. At what point it becomes cultural appropriation?

BB: These foods come from the land.. we don’t own the land. However, it becomes problematic when the majority of the bush food industry is owned by non-Indigenous peoples... if you’re looking for specific bush foods, seek out Aboriginal businesses.

Q: I am genuinely trying to be a better Indigenous ally in my workplace - a big university - and I’m keen to know if it is appreciation or appropriation for a non- Indigenous person to use terms like ‘deadly’ or ‘yarn’ etc. Sometimes I find myself wanting to use them when talking to Indigenous colleagues/stakeholders but I’m not sure if I should. 

BB: This could be read as Blak cladding. Blak cladding is when non-Indigenous peoples/spaces/businesses use aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture (eg language or art) particularly for the purpose of branding, reputation, promotion or sales. I PERSONALLY would assume that a person saying terms like deadly and yarn are a Blakfella...

Community member: Good question to ask..my honest answer is please dont use our vernacular, you will not be taken seriously. I say that with much respect

BB: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I know anytime I’ve talked to mob about it they’ve said same as what you’ve said here 👀✊🏼 too often gubbas are cheeky and intentionally do it to appear Blak... Take Tiffany from Black Comedy for example. 

Q: When we attend Invasions Days rally’s the crowd will often yell “Shame”. I too wish to show my support to the speaker but am unsure if it’s appropriate for me to use the word “shame”. It feels like an intimate word that I don’t have right to use.

BB: Good example! I feel that given the context it’s appropriate for gubbas (non-Indigenous peoples) to join in
 

Q: What about clothing? Where is the line there between appreciation and appropriation?

BB: We have provided some thought about this here.
Clothing The Gaps have created some “mob only” and “ally friendly” stickers that other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses are welcome to use, and have been using - these are a great help!

Q: I wondered whether it's OK to use fabrics (just for personal use such as clothing) that are designed by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artists? 

BB: Make sure they come from Aboriginal artists and money is going back to Aboriginal artists and communities. Same as clothing, I think you need to be confident and prepared to answer questions about the fabric, your decision to use it, and your own identity 

Q: I'm curious about where you would stand on tattoos of indigenous words or even 'always was always will be' would this be considered appreciation or appropriation?

BB: Blak Business hosted a poll asking "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, what do you think of non-Indigenous peoples getting a tattoo related to our culture?"

83% of respondents voted no. 

Q: I have a friend who is not Aboriginal. She attended an art class run by several Indigenous artists where they taught their dot painting technique, and gave her permission to do so at home as a hobby. If she continues to use this technique (with permission from the Indigenous teachers who taught her) for relaxation at home for her own pleasure, and does not sell or display the paintings anywhere else, could this still be considered appropriation? Legitimately asking for a friend - it really is not me, lol.

BB: The above reflection points are useful here. 
Dotting comes from the central desert and people from that place are the true custodians of this knowledge and are the ones who can rightfully share that. I would never speak against the voices of an Elder.

Q: For example, a professional non-Indigenous artist, who is fascinated by Indigenous art and invests a great deal of time in studying it and is then inspired to incorporate this style it their own work in some way, which has historically [for better or worse] sometimes been the approach of artists. Would you say this is always negative and maybe a bad mechanism for making art in general or do you think the key is providing a description that details this sort of inspirational journey and the respectfulness of the work and interactions of the artist with the aboriginal community?

Q: Could I do painting in traditional ways/using symbols if its been taught by an Indigenous person, credited and not used as profit?

BB: It must be kept in mind that Aboriginal art is more than an aesthetic. Rather, this is an epistemological practice concerned with the transmission of culture and knowledge... that just so happens to look appealing. Our pieces were originally put in museums, not art galleries. 

The experience of Berlei Australia from April 2021 speaks to how this can harmfully play out.
I think if an artist truly respects and appreciates Aboriginal art practice, they will visit exhibitions and art centres, and purchase the works of Aboriginal artists rather than having a crack at it themselves.

Of course, if an Aboriginal person has the cultural right to be sharing art practice and chooses to do so, I would not speak against them. 

Q: My son is loving learning local Dreamtime stories and songs in Noongar at pre-primary. They have had Indigenous music artist come in and play for them- but their teacher is teaching them some songs for their assembly item. Is this ok? I love how genuinely curious and in awe he is about indigenous stories, culture and language from the exposure at school- but I want to make sure I get it right in the long run! 

BB: It would be fair and reasonable for you to ask that teacher if they’ve gotten permission to share these songs. I imagine they would have to had to build a relationship to develop this knowledge 

Citation:

APA 7: 
Blak Business. (2021, June 20). Cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation: an introductory guide Retrieved [INSERT DATE: MONTH, DAY, YEAR] from https://www.blakbusiness.com.au/naidoc-2021-survey


MLA 8: 
Blak Business. "Cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation: an introductory guide" Blak Business, 20 Jun. 2021, www.blakbusiness.com.au/jan-26-survey. Accessed [INSERT DATE: DAY, MONTH, YEAR].

Landing tile artwork: Jimmy K Thaiday