I’ve noticed that white people often want to make issues of cultural appropriation into an either/or situation. You either can never use anything from another culture or you can use everything.
But what if we looked at it more like traffic.
What we are trying to do is to prevent an accident that could hurt people – and remember, even if you’re the one who plows into someone else, you can still get hurt.
One of the ways, in North America at least, that we try to keep the roads safer is the use of traffic lights.
Red means stop. Yellow means ‘be careful’. Green means go.
Part of the challenge that creates collisions in cultural dialogues is that white men have a different sense of what these colours are than those who are white men.
When white men say, “But I don’t even see colour,” it turns out to be true in this case. Many white men can see is that the light is on or off. When they get to an intersection and everything goes wrong because all they can see is that there’s a light on and it must mean that it’s okay to drive on through.
It’s further complicated because even those who can see the colours would have a different understanding of what it means.
But let me lay out what might be useful guidelines to consider around using things from other cultures.