Cornrows, Kwanzaa and Confusion: The Dilemma of Cultural Racism and Misappropriation
Our first task in approaching another people,
another culture is to take off our shoes,
for the place we are approaching is holy.
Else we find ourselves treading on another's dream.
More serious still, we may forget that God was there before our arrival.
The baobao is an enormous tree found in many parts of Africa. I encountered it first in Senegal, then in Djibouti. More massive than an oak, its roots spread visibly in every direction, sometimes nearly a quarter of a mile. In addition to its central place as a living expression of nature and of God, the baobao is associated with conflict and the resolution of disputes. Elders and village chiefs are frequently seen sitting under the tree with parties of a conflict. Often members of the same family, clan, or tribe. Sometimes, when the parties emerge, there is a working peace. At other times, when they are unable to resolve the conflict, the result is tribal war.
A feeling of discomfort has been welling up in my soul in spite of our recent efforts (including significant anti-racism training) to move toward greater racial, ethnic and cultural diversity. I have encountered several situations in which well-intentioned Unitarian Universalists of European American heritage have sought to "lift up" the cultural roots and experiences of people of color. Many of these have been done with varying degrees of disrespect and what is, no doubt, non-conscious racism. I believe that it is time for Unitarian Universalists from different tribes to sit under the baobao.
This is part of an ongoing conversation I have had with myself, and occasionally with others, for several years. In a way, we are all feeling our way through a new minefield. I hope that expanding the conversation will help us to delve into a dimension of race relations that is sensitive, difficult, and important. This essay focuses on three aspects of culture: (a) racism and other forms of cultural bigotry, (b) developing greater sensitivity in how we honor the heritage, traditions, and work of racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups, and (c) the threat of cultural genocide and the need for cultural preservation. In these few pages we cannot capture the full scope of cultural racism, let alone analyze it. My purpose is simply to bring the issue to our attention as a religious movement, with the goa1 of opening up a dialogue between persons of European American heritage and those whose ancestry and heritage is in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands.
Undoing the social and cultural constructs that have led to racism is, for me, a theological task. It is a transcendent experience—one step toward breaking down the barriers that divide us from each other, from all creation, and from the Great Spirit of Life that some of us call God. It is taking one step toward building a beloved community.
Racism is a prejudgment based on race, coupled with the power to affirm that prejudice. It is the exercise of power and the presumption of the privilege to establish and proclaim one race, history, identity, and experience as superior to all other groups. As such, racism is systemic. It saturates every part of our social system economically, politically, and culturally. Racism, including enculturated or cultural racism, imposes the power of one group to institutionalize its values and norms over all other groups. In the United States there is a limited acknowledgment of institutional racism, but cultural racism is often minimized or overlooked. Cultural racism finds its roots in the legacy of White supremacy and in placing more value in imagination than in history or facts. Toni Morrison's book, Playing in the Dark  is a literary critique of one form of cultural racism which focuses on the White imagination. One of the most widespread assumptions of White supremacy within the system of free enterprise is that the images, symbols, rituals, practices, and/or religious expressions of any culture can be freely appropriated by another, with or without permission. Cultural racism carries with it an all-pervasive set of assumptions, a deeply rooted taken-for-grantedness that affirms the bastardization (including commercialization) of a culture by placing its cultural productions on the auction block, so to speak.
Power of the Dominant Culture
The power of the White majority to decide what is valued as "normal" or acceptable, and to impart subtle and often unconscious messages about what is "right" and what is not, is especially critical when we consider children. Kenneth Clark found that, by the age of three or four, children develop opinions about their own racial groups based on socially prevailing ideas and other expressions from the dominant culture—in spite of the fact that the child may have had no direct experience with another racial, ethnic or cultural group.
Much of the critical writing on multiculturalism in education is really about intellectual racism as a specific form of cultural racism, but it has not been so named. Leonore Tiefer's article, "Intellectual Racism," is one of the few that begins to name the issue, but the challenge of cultural racism is multi-layered. Tiefer points to the necessity for European Americans to read the writings of people of color "widely and deeply" and to examine "ideas and models for their roles in perpetuating racial hierarchies." If we are to improve race relations within the Unitarian Universalist Association and in the country at large, it is also necessary to examine a multitude of values, norms and assumptions of mainstream culture just as partners in a business enterprise would examine the values, norms, and assumptions of a foreign culture in which they were seeking to do business.
Language is one of these assumptions, and it is a primary construct of racism that shapes cultural norms. I recall the exercise undertaken by Malcolm X in the early 1960s, in which he investigated the words "black" and "white" in the dictionary. Thirty years later, we still find "black'" too often associated with negatives and evil and "white" with goodness and purity. Assigning terms like: "nude" to nylon stockings or "flesh" to Band-Aids(TM) or crayons, for example, is based on Caucasian skin tones as the norm. Several years ago, the Crayola Company introduced a set of "multicultural" crayons reflecting a wider spectrum of colors, the new palette ranging from alabaster shades to dark chocolate. Several friends report that while they have had no problem finding these crayons in neighborhoods where people of color are the majority, they are less available in European American neighborhoods. Market research may have driven this outcome, but it suggests yet another false cultural assumption: that European Americans neither need nor want "multicultural" crayons.
Another example of cultural racism, driven by an institutional partnership, is the term "third world." Thanks to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), commonly known as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this term has now become a linguistic norm. More than twenty years ago, these two multilateral institutions divided the world in a way that was suited to their needs—according to their own economic formula. The "first" world was the industrialized Western capitalist countries (the United States and Western Europe); the "second" world included the Communist-bloc countries (the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe), and the "third" world represented most of the former colonies in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands judged to have the potential for development with help from the West. There were even "fourth" and "fifth" world terms applied to those countries believed to have little or no potential for development due to climactic limitations or a lack of natural or human resources. This hierarchical arrangement of nations has multiple implications for how people see themselves and how others see them.
The media is another example of how an institution expresses cultural racism. The immense power of media to name "reality" subjectively seems apparent. Since I have written elsewhere on this subject, I shall not dwell on it here.
In spite of the tremendous power of language to influence cultural norms, the attempt to discuss linguistics in terms of race (or gender and sexual orientation) seems to spark a lightning rod. Too often, linguistic challenges are dismissed as "pandering to political correctness." Cultural racism is not about political correctness; it is about who gets to define language and establish and sustain cultural norms. It is about who gets to sit at the table and set agendas. It is about the need and the right to claim one's full humanity instead of accepting disrespect and varying degrees of dehumanization from others. It is about racist patriarchal supremacy. It is about power and freedom and justice.
There is probably no such thing as a pure religion or a pure culture. To some extent we all appropriate culture. Since time immemorial, religions have borrowed from each other. Judaism was shaped in part by encounters of the ancient Hebrews with the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians. Similarly, Christianity is rooted in the Jewish tradition, Islam begins with both the Jewish and Christian traditions, and so on. In these modern times, with international tourism and media connecting people throughout the world, there is now a greater opportunity for cultural misunderstanding and misrepresentation, and hence, the concern about misappropriation and cultural preservation of indigenous cultures.
How can cultural appropriation be defined? First, it is most often a form of racial or religious prejudice, or in the most general terms, cultural appropriation is a form of plagiarism. It is consciously or unconsciously seeking to emulate concepts, beliefs or rituals that are foreign to a particular framework, individual or collective. It is incorporating language, cultural expressions, forms, lifestyles, rituals or practices, about which there is little basis for direct knowledge, experience or authenticity, into one's being. It is also the superficial appreciation of a culture without regard to its deeper meaning. And finally, cultural appropriation is acting in ways that belie understanding or respect for the historical, social and spiritual context out of which particular traditions and cultural expressions were born.
The second principle of Kwanzaa, kujichagulia (or self-determination), provides a framework from which to examine cultural misappropriation as one dimension of cultural racism. From a political standpoint, self-determination means that people have the right to determine how they will be governed. Dr. Ron Karenga, who gave birth to this ritual, says that self-determination is the right "to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves instead of being defined, named, created and spoken for by others," I would extend the definition further to say that self-determination is a basic human right. In a Unitarian Universalist context, it also means the right to interpret one's culture and theology.
It has been argued that Unitarian Universalism, particularly our approach to religious education, represents a "creative integration of cultures," with an acknowledgment that the new creation is just that—new. Such a critique raises important questions, among them these:
- How does "creative integration" of cultures honor and respect the root culture that sparked the development of the new? Is the new simply a cheap imitation?
- Who are the teachers and transmitters of racial, cultural and religious identity? Can or should such traditions be taught or transmitted only by a "native" of that tradition? If not, what is the standard of measurement by which authenticity should be measured?
- What is the source of racial or cultural identity? Is racial and cultural identity reserved only for those whose birth, history, or religious experience is firmly rooted in that culture? Or can one acquire an authentic identity from outside one's own culture of origin?
- What is appropriate and what is inappropriate cultural "borrowing?"
- What is the motivation for cultural borrowing? What is being sought, and why?
- How can cultural traditions that are not our own be honored, respected, appreciated, affirmed, and respectfully shared?
Instead of providing answers, I offer several scenarios to consider, around which discussions can be framed about the implications of cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is problematic, in part, because it is rooted in the existing system of White power and privilege, and is based on the assumption that indiscriminate intercultural borrowing, transfers, or outright stealing are okay. Referring to the trend of the past twenty-five years to market a distorted brand of "Indian spiritual wisdom" to White middle class consumers, Vine Deloria, Jr., a respected American Indian scholar, suggests that cultural appropriation is rooted in a deeper, albeit unconscious, motive:
White people in this country are so alienated from their own lives and so hungry for some sort of real life that they'll grasp at any straw to save themselves... (H)igh tech society has given them a taste for the "quick fix." They want their spirituality prepackaged in such a way as to provide instant insight, the more sensational and preposterous the better. They'll pay big bucks to anybody dishonest enough to offer them spiritual salvation after reading the right book or sitting for the right fifteen-minute session. And, of course, this opens them up to every kind of mercenary hustler imaginable. It's all very pathetic, really.
If a sports team misappropriates a name that is clear negative reference to Native Americans, for example, "Redskins," it is as disrespectful as referring to an African American by the "N" word. If a North American manufacturer offers a new line of clothing inspired by patterns, styles, or fabrics created by the Andean people, it is plagiarism to name the new line "Andean." If a European American woman believes that the cowrie shell is reminiscent of female genitalia, it is dishonest to place it within a West African context if that interpretation bears no relationship to that culture.
I do accept that many of the goals of those who support cross-cultural borrowing, as far as I can discern, are completely honorable. Often the motivation is simply appreciation for some element of a culture. In fact, sometimes the goal is to honor diversity and serve as a means to help break down barriers. In general, I do not believe there is an intention of malice or ill-will. However, naiveté seems to characterize the actions of many who find themselves in a delicate place relative to intercultural relations. At other times, as Deloria suggests, the motive is less clear, or more self-serving. Regardless of motive, when cultural borrowing becomes cultural racism, the result is often disrespectful and can be painful to those whose cultural expression was borrowed.
As Unitarian Universalists, we are indeed unique in our approach to embracing other religions in worship, programming and religious education. We intentionally seek to learn about world religions and to share other cultural rituals and traditions. We lack depth, however, in our understanding of the historical, racial, cultural and religious context, as well as sensitivity to these contexts. At worst, our approach is assimilation, a combination of voyeurism and thievery, which in effect seems to say: from the distance of time and space, we have permission to take a myopic look at whatever culture we choose, and to beg, borrow or steal whatever we like, and make it our own.
An issue worthy of contemplation and extended dialogue is that cultural appropriation is based on the assumption that culture can or should be universalized—that anyone can become a part of any cultural or religious tradition—rather than culture arising out of (and remaining within) a particular social, racial, religious or historical context. Two examples win illustrate the point.
I invited a friend, Shoshana Kaminsky, a Reconstructionist Rabbi, to attend a service for the Days of Awe (the Jewish High Holy Days) at a Unitarian Universalist church. Her response was quick and sharp. She flatly refused the invitation. "The High Holy Days," said the Rabbi, "are an observance of the Jewish community as a whole, and are a way of expressing religious unity in a place of Jewish worship. The liturgy is entirely in the plural: 'We have sinned.' Worship in a non-Jewish setting seems to dilute the whole ceremony if non-Jews think that the 'we' means them," the Rabbi said. She is asking us to honor the historic, religious, and cultural context out of which the High Holy Days come. The Rabbi asks us to honor her tradition and culture in ways that she defines, and she challenges our unfounded assumption that we "honor" Judaism by celebrating Jewish holidays in a Unitarian Universalist context. The Rabbi's position is only one Jewish opinion, but it questions the very heart and soul of our approach to religion, which has multiple implications as we continue to struggle with the question of how to honor other religions and cultures. My question is: if Rabbi Kaminsky's view has any validity at all, how do we honor Unitarian Universalists for whom the Jewish heritage and tradition are important?
The celebration of Kwanzaa in our congregations presents a similar, yet different, concern. Although many of the principles of Kwanzaa are rooted in what I believe can become universal values, Kwanzaa is unique and particular to the experience of African Americans. Indeed, it was born out of the experience of struggle and redemption. It is a remembrance of how African Americans have been beaten down throughout centuries, and the ritual is designed to lift their spirits: "to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, speak for ourselves" and so on. Like the "we" in the Yom Kippur service, Kwanzaa's reference to "ourselves" (African Americans) becomes irrelevant if the pronoun refers to anyone and everyone present. For this reason, congregational celebrations of Kwanzaa need to be rethought. A radical position would be that Kwanzaa should be celebrated only by African Americans. A more liberal position would say that Kwanzaa cannot be celebrated authentically without African Americans leading the ritual, and that Whites who wish to participate as an act of solidarity can honor African Americans by substituting the word "yourselves" for "ourselves." In either case, it needs to be stated clearly that Kwanzaa's historical context is the suffering of African American people, and that the ritual is designed to affirm their commitment to self-renewal, self-reliance, self-determination, and self-redemption.
Though I have found ways to reconcile some of my own conflicts about this sensitive subject, I acknowledge that it is extremely complex. It is a tough issue. Just as we have assumed that we honor Judaism by celebrating Jewish holidays in a Unitarian Universalist setting, we have made the same assumption about Divali, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and special holidays and holy days of other traditions. As an American of African heritage, I have participated in many Seder meals and have felt perfectly comfortable doing so when invited. What has been uppermost in my mind in such settings is that, in spite of the common experience of oppression of both Jews and African Americans, Passover is a Jewish story. Therefore, I look to Jewish people for guidance and for leadership of such a celebration. Similarly, I occasionally fasted during Ramadan, not because I consider myself to be celebrating this Islamic tradition, but because it reminds me of my childhood and what I learned about fasting in a strict Christian environment: the value of cleansing, self-sacrifice, thankfulness, and refocusing one's energy toward the Most High. My Muslim friends who are aware that I sometimes join in this ritual at Ramadan seem to welcome the spirit of my intention.
Freedom and Rights
The dimensions of cultural appropriation are further complicated by questions of freedom and rights. Who is to say what practices cross the line between appropriation and misappropriation? Danielle Gladd, a student at Meadville/Lombard Theological School, offers this perspective on some dimensions of the subject:
I don't have the right to assume that any symbol, custom, clothing, ritual, literature, art or idea is mine for the taking, or critiquing and appropriating (or misappropriating) to meet my wants and desires. Every culture has value and meaning. They may seem primitive to the untrained eye, but the context and background from which these traditions emerged must be understood, respected and appreciated before making them our own.
From my perspective, there is nothing inappropriate about a Kenyan wearing an Indian silk blouse or a Guatemalan woven belt, or a German wearing a shirt with a Mandarin collar or a Ghanaian Kente stole. These cultural creations are beautiful and have practical value. For a person of European American heritage, however to wear clothing reminiscent of a particular indigenous culture in an attempt to be African or Native American is typical of the wannabe syndrome—the notion that a particular racial or cultural group can actually become another ethnic or cultural group simply by learning the rituals and dressing the part. This syndrome expresses itself as cultural arrogance and misappropriation as well as internalized oppression. Andy Smith, Martin Marty (and no doubt others) have already written about the wannabe syndrome, so I need not comment further.
When I was in seminary, I met a woman from Wisconsin of Dutch and Swedish heritage, who for five years had dated only Black men. She sometimes wore African style clothing and once told me that she felt that she must have been born with "an African soul." We became friends because of our mutual interest in urban ministry. She took seriously the issue of being a white ally with oppressed communities. For example, she was a nurse in a poor urban area and over the years worked tirelessly with religious and secular organizations to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. She also joined a Black United Methodist church. She went further. One day I came to class utterly amazed to see that my friend had gone to a black hairdresser to have her hair cornrowed in an African style. Later that year, a Nigerian friend invited her to visit his homeland. I was glad that she accepted the invitation. However, I realized while she was away that if we were going to remain friends, I must engage her in a conversation about my concern. The cornrows apparently moved other Black students to talk with her as well. Within six months, she had cut her hair very short. This was the beginning of reclaiming her identity as a European American woman from Wisconsin.
I have no credentials in psychology, but it is experiences such as this that led me to believe that Vine Deloria's critique has validity, and to believe that owning one's story, history, culture and identity is what many "generically White" people may be longing for when they engage in cultural borrowing and appropriation as a matter of course. My friend is still in what may be a long process of finding her own story, but I respect her willingness to struggle with her conflicts, to maintain her commitment to active engagement with African heritage communities, and to help improve these communities through advocacy and service. We are still good friends.
Justice-Making in Cross-Cultural Relationships
What can we, as Unitarian Universalists seeking to become an anti-racist, multicultural religious movement, do to keep justice-making at the center of our practice vis-a-vis cross-cultural relationships in worship, programming and religious education? Most importantly, there is a need for greater dialogue and engagement between European Americans and people of color as well as with those in and out of our congregations who practice many world religions. In addition to questions already raised, it may also be time to consider more tough questions:
- How can the dominant thinking about history be transformed from an emphasis on self-interest and conquest to new learnings and appreciation of different cultures?
- How can a culture maintain its meaning and authenticity if its traditions are thrust into the public arena—the free marketplace of ideas?
- Does diversity mean that we all join in celebrating many different traditions, or does it mean that we honor the need and the right of each culture to affirm and celebrate its own heritage and traditions, while maintaining the option of inviting others to join in as participant-observers?
- How do we support and affirm group identity and at the same time respect individual rights?
- How do we navigate cultural borders and boundaries in worship, programming, and religious education?
- Is there a line that can be drawn to say that it is okay to cross X boundary, but not Y boundary? Who decides?
Consensus on the above questions will be difficult. Certainly, there is no list of right or wrong answers, and it may be that these questions have no answers at all. Facing the reality of cultural racism and cultural misappropriation will be spiritually challenging for many Unitarian Universalists because it calls for a willingness to engage in some difficult relearnings accompanied by an awareness of the need for a deeper degree of personal humility.
As early as 1965, sociologist George Kelsey argued that racism is a faith. It is a form of idolatry, "an abortive search for meaning." William R. Jones, a few years later in his book, Is God a White Racist? argued that the primary image that has shaped and sustained Christianity is rooted in racism. I am convinced by Kelsey, Jones, and my own experience, that racism does indeed function as one of this nation's highest values (although it may be unconscious), and to that extent, it functions as a secular religion. If we wish to disassociate ourselves from those who practice this religion; if we are seeking reconciliation with those who have been and continue to be the victims of racism, and if we are interested in risking the next steps in justice-making with regard to cultural racism and misappropriation, we might begin by actively acknowledging that cultural formations and traditions come from the organic experience of a people and are sacred; and that many religious and cultural traditions have been historically violated. If we are to be one nation, undivided, we must heal the chasm between and among the many different racial and cultural groups. That was dramatically revealed following the O. J. Simpson verdict. Acknowledgment of those things that have separated us can be a beginning.
Do these starting points mean that Unitarian Universalists should not embrace or participate in different cultural or religious traditions? No, it simply means that we need to think more deeply about how to embrace other traditions, how to honor and respect the cultural and religious contexts out of which they were born and continue to live. Reconciliation is a religious task, but it has a political dimension. It requires moving beyond first steps to completely dismantle the institutional and cultural practices that have sustained the power of one group over another in determining cultural norms, equal opportunity, equitable laws, and policies of governance.
How we respond to racism, in all its forms, is fundamentally rooted in how we answer larger ethical, religious, and political questions. What does it really mean to respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person in terms of their culture or religion? How is that Principle made manifest in our approach to religious education, programming, worship, and even our personal lives? Will you continue to borrow pieces of my culture simply because you like it, or will you stand in solidarity with me against oppression? As a religious community, a community of justice and hope, if we are to err, let it be on the side of caution. Let it be in our dialogue rather than in our action. Let it be on the side of equality and justice.
Upholding European American ideas, values, and assumptions as the norm are as much a part of sustaining racism as segregation, scapegoating, or the lack of equal opportunity. Dismantling racism begins with saying that we can no longer do business as usual. A spiritual discipline for Unitarian Universalist religious leaders and laity might be to find a baobao tree (or other sacred place) and contemplate the wisdom of a maxim that sprang from the pen of one we may never know: Our first task in approaching another people, another culture is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we find ourselves treading on another's dream. More serious still, we may forget, that God was there before our arrival. How we respond to this maxim as people of faith will be our religious ethic.
This article was originally published in the Fall 1995 edition of the Liberal Religious Education Journal entitled: Bridges to the Future: From Assimilation to Pluralism.
At the time this article was published, Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley was Affiliate Minister at the Community Church of New York and Extension Minister for Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity in the Metro New York District of Unitarian Universalist Congregations. She held a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in International Development and Communications.
- Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992).
- Kenneth B. Clark, Prejudices and Your Child (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955). Also see Clark's 1952 findings indicating that black girl children showed a preference for White dolls over Black dolls. Is there any wonder why? White was the only acceptable norm at the time, a factor that was reinforced by every mediated message.
- There is a host of literature about multiculturalism from K-12 through college level in both the academic and mainstream press. Among these, I find particularly stimulating George Gheverghese Joseph, et al., 1990. Eurocentrism in Social Sciences. Race and Class, 4 (April-June): 1-26.
- Leonore Tiefer, 1994. Intellectual Racism. The Communicator (Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation, September/October): 6.
- A number of groups from poor countries have embraced the term "third world" as a way of making a political statement that acknowledges their status as inferior –that they are, in fact, third (or lower) on the international agenda. This does not imply tacit acceptance or complicity with the IBRD/IMF construction of reality.
- "What You See Is What You Get: Content and Context in Mass Mediated Culture," a sermon delivered at the: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington (New York), October 8, 1995.
- Kwanzaa is an African American ritual based on the Nguzo Saba or African American value system. It has been practiced in the United States since 1966. Using the East African language of Kiswahili, each day between December 16 and January 1, one of the following principles is observed: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujama (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).
- Maulana Ron Karenga, The African American Holiday of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of the Family, Community, and Culture (Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press, 1989).
- Ward Churchill, 1990. Spiritual Hucksterism. Z Magazine (December): 94.
- This subject has already been addressed more adequately by several Native American writers, including Russell Means in "For the World to Live, Columbus Must Die," a speech given at the University of Colorado, Denver, Apri1 27, 1992; and George Tinker, 1991, "For All My Relations." Soujourner (January).
- Karenga, op. cit.
- Though I honor the historical tradition out of which Jewish holidays come, I am not a linguistic purist. I do not believe, for example, that the word "holocaust" should be limited exclusively to references of Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe. Similarly, the word "atonement" need not be restricted to Yom Kippur since the concept of atonement exists in Christianity, in Islam, and other religions of the world.
- Danielle Gladd. "Cultural Borrowing or Appropriation." Panel discussion sponsored by the African American Unitarian Universalist Ministry, UUA General Assembly, Spokane, Washington, June 18, 1995.
- The term wannabe (want to be) is a good example of how an expression that was rooted in a particular culture transcends that culture. I believe I am correct in saying that this term originated in Black American lingo before the Black Power era as a reference to what has now become called "internalized oppression," among African Americans who fully embraced European American norms, values, and culture. In other words, it was a reference to those who wannabe White and in the past decade has more generally come to mean those who want to be something other than what they are.
- Internalized oppression is partial or total acceptance of history, belief in the superiority or adoption of cultural or religious norms as defined and interpreted by an oppressor group. One of its expressions is denial of one's own culture substituted by immersion into the oppression culture. Internalized oppression runs counter to self-determination. For one person's struggle against internalized anti- Semitism, see The Invisible Thread, Diane Bletter, Ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publications Society, 1987).
- Andy Smith, 1991. For All Those Who Were Indian in a Former Life. Ms. Magazine (November/December): 44-45. See also Martin E. Marty. 1994. Impure Faith: Borrowers and Wannabes. The Christian Century, (June 1-8): 561-564, and Ward Churchill, op. cit.
- Those who think of themselves as "White" rather than English, German, Irish, Scottish, or American.
- George Kelsey, Racism and the Christian Understanding of Man (New York: Scribner, 1965).
- William R. Jones, Is God a White Racist? A Preamble to Black Theology. (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press, Doubleday, 1973). Jones, a Unitarian Universalist minister has given many workshops at Unitarian Universalist Association General Assemblies and other Unitarian Universalist settings, including his current work in the Florida District. He is chair of the Department of African American Studies at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
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Last updated on Tuesday, July 26, 2011.
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