Handout 5: Pirates, Boats, and Adventures in Cross-Cultural Engagement
The Council for Cross-Cultural Engagement (CCE) first convened about cultural misappropriation that occurred at General Assembly 2007 in Seattle, Washington. Since then, they have been talking about misunderstandings that happen when cultures intersect, when an individual may feel marginalized when music, a poem, a reading, prayer, or spiritual practice is used without context credit or any sense of relationship to the communities involved.
Rev. Danielle DiBona began the session by describing her initial experience in Seattle. She had attended the Service of the Living Tradition, and the program included the hymn "We'll Build a Land." When DiBona, a Wampanoag Indian, saw hundreds of mostly white faces in the hall singing this, she thought about how white European culture indeed had built—on Native American land. Knowing all this was done at the expense of Native culture caused her great pain.
DiBona shared these feelings with Keith Arnold, who had helped plan the service. Arnold, president of the UU Musicians Network (UUMN) initially replied that he would never sing the song again. But DiBona assured him that he could, now that she had been heard. Arnold told the attendees he will always remember her story when he sings it. This experience has changed how he thinks of this song, he said, using "other ears." He advised answering with "Tell me more," rather than trying to explain what you hoped a song would mean.
Members of CCE then shared examples of multiple interpretations. For example, most responded to "Blue Boat Home" as a comforting song with calming imagery. However, for Sofia Betancourt, it reminded her of the many slaves who chose to jump overboard slave ships and drown, rather than remain in bondage.
Another example is the hymnal song "Light of Ages and Nations," a longtime national anthem of Germany. The Haydn melody was used by the Nazis during WWII with different lyrics that took on a pro-Nazi connotation. Linda Friedman said she found it hard to listen to, as it invoked painful feelings about the Holocaust. Ellen Zemlin experienced it differently, however. Zemlin then shared knowledge of Holocaust history, that only a portion of the lyrics are still a part of the anthem. David Takahashi Morris shared that he was asked to never play the song again, because it offended a congregation member. "That tune," he said, "is a casualty of WWII; it's lost and can't come back."
To address the initial incident that sparked the group's inception, CCE presented a worship service at General Assembly on Thursday morning. They presented the hymn, "We'll Build a Land," and offered dialogue expression that illustrated how people with different backgrounds experience hymns in different ways:
Come build a world where families and neighbors
United by love may then create peace
Where justice shall roll down like waters
And peace like an ever-flowing stream