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Cultural (Mis)Appropriation

Resources to Inform Practice

Can we ever honorably use resources from diverse cultures in Unitarian Universalist practice? How can we truly respect the cultures of origin from which those resources are drawn? Are there guidelines to help us negotiate that process? These are complicated questions and most of us need help in answering them. There are no blanket answers, but there are sage words and stories to guide us. The following resources are offered to inform us on the journey towards making respectful choices to honor all beings.

  • Cornrows, Kwanzaa and Confusion: The Dilemma of Cultural Racism and Misappropriation, by Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley. Originally offered in the Liberal Religious Education Journal. Fall, 1995: "Bridges to the Future: From Assimilation to Pluralism." It is reprinted here with permission. It can be copied for distribution and use within congregational settings.

    This article opens a dialogue on the complex issue of cultural racism. How can we navigate cultural borders and boundaries in worship, programming, and religious education? Does diversity mean that we all join in celebrating many different traditions? Is it possible to honor the need and the right of each culture to affirm and celebrate its own heritage and traditions, while inviting others to join in?
  • Lessons from the Kwanzaa Candles, by Gail Forsyth-Vail. Originally offered in the REACH packet of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), Fall 1999. It is reprinted here with permission. It can be copied for distribution and use within congregational settings.

    How can a white Anglo-American Unitarian Universalist respectfully address Kwanzaa? This award-winning worship service addresses this question as well as the history and meaning of Kwanzaa. The author writes, "The Kwanzaa candles encourage me to learn what it means to be white in the United States, learn what my forebears exchanged for a place in the American melting pot. I must search for and claim the red, the past, my past, before I can truly envision a fair world, a world of justice, equity, and compassion in human relations."
  • Reckless Borrowing or Appropriate Cultural Sharing? by Jacqui James. Originally offered in the REACH packet of the UUA, Winter 2001. It is reprinted here with permission. It can be copied for distribution and use within congregational settings.

    The author writes, "Since we as Unitarian Universalists seek to promote justice, equity, peace, and the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we must look at how the integration of rituals, symbols, and ideas of other traditions may be affecting those whose traditions are being "borrowed." It is important that we learn to differentiate between drawing from the wisdom and appropriating rituals, artifacts, and other elements of the spiritual traditions of other religions." Questions to guide decision-making are offered to guide practice.
  • Considerations for Cultural Borrowing: Questions to Ask (and Answer), prepared by the 2003 UUA Cultural (Mis) Appropriations Ad Hoc Committee, Judith Frediani, Chair.

    This document offers a comprehensive set of questions to consider when potentially integrating culture specific practices into Unitarian Universalist worship and teaching.
  • A Perspective on Music and Cultural Misappropriation by the Reverend Jason Shelton.

For more information contact multicultural @

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Last updated on Thursday, August 1, 2013.

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