Dear UUCWC Community:
This fall, the UUCWC Board of Trustees adopted the ambitious goal to Institutionalize a Racial Justice Lens: Observe and decenter white-centeredness as part of congregational culture. Examine and adjust systems and processes in support of institutionalizing a racial justice lens.
It was this goal that led us to enter into conversation with Rev. Kim and the Auction Committee about the auction theme Fiesta. As Rev. Kim shared, the board expressed concern and offered guidelines on how to think about the theme through this lens, and the Auction Committee determined they could move ahead in a conscientious, thoughtful manner. The conversation continued and deepened, and included a focus on the power differential in our country, and the dire situation for many Latin Americans at this time. Given this, we were asked to again reconsider the theme. We did and came to the same conclusion as the Auction Committee, that it was important to adjust the theme to not reflect anyone’s culture.
The conversation around Cultural Appropriation versus Cultural Appreciation is a challenging one, often without clear lines. Here is just one of the many definitions, as a starting point to a nuanced and ongoing conversation:
Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is a concept in sociology dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. It is distinguished from equal cultural exchange due to the presence of a colonial element and imbalance of power. (Wikipedia) Therefore, as an LA Times article states: “Cultural appropriation highlights the power imbalance that remains between those in power and those who’ve been historically marginalized.” However, appreciating another culture looks like cultural exchange which makes cultural appreciation bound in relationship, respect, and mutual benefit.
Doing a simple internet search reveals many, many writings about cultural appreciation and appropriation. Doing a search for party themes reveals even more reactions from people whose cultures are appropriated as entertainment. Patience and discernment are necessary when reading these and thinking about our practices at UUCWC.
One question that has come up in regard to the Auction is whether it’s okay to offer a culturally-themed dinner. Yes, you are encouraged to continue to offer these dinners. We’re also encouraging you, hosts and guests, alike, to engage your creativity and curiosity in ideas for centering the people whose food you are eating and enjoying together. You might consider these questions: How are you connected to the food you are serving? What is the story of the author(s) of the cookbook(s) you used, or the person who taught you the recipes? What are some stories of immigration to the US of people who eat this food? What issues are they facing today in the US? Is there anything that we as individuals or as a congregation are doing or can do to help?
Thank you for being part of this passionate and engaged community, your conscientiousness and willingness to enter into hard conversations, and for being a fellow traveler on this journey together. I believe that it will be worth the effort.
Marianne Chopp Alt, President
UUCWC Board of Trustees