“When is cultural appropriation ok?” asked the white person in the audience…

Odette Kelada

I’ve removed myself from a lot of the cultural appropriation debates because as a person of colour, it is fucking exhausting trying to have your feelings and pain constantly invalidated by white folks.
—post on ‘My Culture is not a Trend’

“But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?” Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given to understand that whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!
—W E Dubois

Daniel Boyd
We Call them Pirates Out Here 2006
Oil on canvas, 226 x 276 cm
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006
Image courtesy and © the artist

“What is the difference between exchange and appropriation?”

The question in the title, “When is it ok for me to appropriate?” is taken from my experience during a 2013 forum on ‘cultural appropriation’ at Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne. It describes the genuine confusion of some members in the audience at hearing there may be something unable to be rightfully ‘acquired’ for their use. The nature of the continual questions— “What is the difference between exchange and appropriation?” indicate the problem. The fact that after all the writings on cultural appropriation, the tenets of how to act respectfully are still cause for wonder is the issue itself.

This is an article commissioned around the theme of cultural appropriation. It is going to be an article about whiteness. Why? I am writing this as someone of mixed cultural backgrounds, Egyptian-Irish heritage, brought up predominantly as white, so I understand why entitlement to ‘take’ is confusing when challenged, for whiteness does not get refused often. When presented with a barrier, the response can range from hurt, hostility, a rather stunned bewilderment before rallying to the ‘challenge’ or finding the anxiety ‘fascinating’ as cultural appropriation becomes a ‘hot’ topic, yet again.


Read in full via the online issue