The Privilege Behind Doing Good

What is the big deal about appropriation? Defined as the intentional copying or exploiting of pre-existing images and objects. Context is important, specifically the historical one that we largely ignore when it comes to copying cultures that are not from our own lived experiences. Why does this appropriative ideology prevail despite the disingenuous value that culture is profitable, while marginalized people abhor that sentiment?

As free as we are to do whatever with our hair, clothing, art or sacred objects to enjoy, “using someone else’s cultural symbols to satisfy a personal need for self-expression is an exercise in privilege. Because for those of us who have felt forced and pressured to change the way we look, behave, and speak just to earn enough respect to stay employed and safe, our modes of self-expression are still limited.” This article was sparked by a recent product of Urban Outfitters, Local Branch Smudge Kit seen here. (see image below). By intentionally copying culture without placing context, Urban Outfitters and others are demonstrating the imbalance of power that remains between the colonizers and colonized.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 12.09.32 PM

Also “When someone’s behavior is labeled culturally appropriative, it’s usually not about that specific person being horrible and evil. It’s about a centuries’ old pattern of taking, stealing, exploiting, and misunderstanding the history and symbols that are meaningful to people of marginalized cultures.” (source).

How is awareness of our desire to do good important in our social ventures? We must first be aware of the implications of how we decide to do good – we have to be open to criticism.  We have to understand, analyze then make a decision. Whatever decision is made has to be an enlightened one so that we are truly innovating and not just repeating antiquated and uneven distributions of power. In order to do good, we must find alternatives to the status quo of stereotypes, disregard for context, and really ask, am I exploiting a culture for my own benefit or are the benefits mutually shared?

Pointing out cultural appropriations is not a personal attack, marginalized groups and allies have been for centuries voicing a need to stop what they feel is exploitation – why do people not take them seriously? Would you not take a child’s concern seriously if they felt unsafe or made fun of for whatever reason? Recovery from colonization has several intentional steps, you can decolonize through several educational tools when doing your research, environmental scans and asking for feedback from experts, clients, customers and other stakeholders.

One specific resource by Poka Laenui, and his 5 steps to decolonize follows:
Recovery, Mourning, Dreaming, Commitment, and Action.

1) Recovery – involves a process of rediscovery and recovery.  Laenui writes, “this phase sets the foundation for the eventual decolonization of the society” (152).  During this phase, those who have suffered the consequences of colonialism begin to question their assumed place as inferior to the dominant culture.  The individual begins to rediscover their indigenous history and recovers lost aspects of their culture such as language and traditions.

2) Mourning – Laenui states that, “the natural outgrowth of the first phase is the mourning – a time when a people are able to lament their victimization” (154).

3) Dreaming – Laenui believes that dreaming is a crucial phase in decolonization. Here, “the full panorama of possibilities are expressed, considered through debate, consultation, and building dreams on further dreams which eventually becomes the flooring for the creation of a new social order” (155). This restructuring involves reassessment of existing power structures (internal and external) and expanding our worldviews and shifting our paradigms to make a better world for all nations.

4) Commitment – a desire for consensus, as opposed to votes and hierarchy, is important here. Is your call consistent with the intention of decolonization or do you cut the dreaming phase short and force a premature resolution of historical injustice?

5) Action – involves committing to your dreams and deciding to make them a reality. Laenui explains consensus must occur in the fourth phase before the action phase can follow. Who is sitting at the table when consensus is underway?

Taking responsibility and generously listening to people whom we seek to do good for, educating ourselves, and being open to the possibility of changing ideologies of oppression in society at large can only move us in the right direction. It never hurts to ask someone genuine questions during the iteration stages of a social venture, after all are you not seeking sustainable change in the most genuine ways possible? And so, why not invest in your project under those same values?

Additional Sources

50 Phrases that Kill Creativity

Sometimes an idea can be good, bad, unclear or just in its infant stages . How often do we ignore or put down ideas not our own? How often have we ignored ideas with huge potential because we failed to observe the bigger picture? Perhaps we were on autopilot and used one of the 50 Phrases that Kills Creativity below? Dave Dufour developed a list called Fifty Phrases that Kill Creativity in the late 80s, which resonates strongly to this day. In spaces where creativity, innovation and risk taking are not as valued, I would argue, are the exact spaces that need an injection of possibility, not constraint. Even if the first idea is not feasible or realistic, it might spark others that are, it might spark something out of the recesses of another persons mind that can contribute greatly to the task at hand. Understanding the list below can prepare you to not lose momentum or be discouraged because curiosity opens more doors than remaining where you are, or worse, regressing.

  1. Our place is different
  2. We tried that before.
  3. It costs too much.
  4. That’s not my job.
  5. They’re too busy to do that.
  6. We don’t have the time.
  7. Not enough help.
  8. It’s too radical a change.
  9. The staff will never buy it.
  10. It’s against company policy.
  11. The union will scream.
  12. That will run up our overhead.
  13. We don’t have the authority.
  14. Let’s get back to reality
  15. That’s not our problem.
  16. I don’t like the idea.
  17. I’m not saying you’re wrong but…
  18. You’re two years ahead of your time.
  19. Now’s not the right time.
  20. It isn’t in the budget.
  21. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
  22. Good thought, but impractical.
  23. Let’s give it more thought.
  24. We’ll be the laughingstock of the industry.
  25. Not that again.
  26. Where’d you dig that one up?
  27. We did alright without it before.
  28. It’s never been tried.
  29. Let’s put that one on the back burner for now.
  30. Let’s form a committee.
  31. It won’t work in our place.
  32. The executive committee will never go for it.
  33. I don’t see the connection.
  34. Let’s all sleep on it.
  35. It can’t be done.
  36. It’s too much trouble to change.
  37. It won’t pay for itself.
  38. It’s impossible.
  39. I know a person who tried it and got fired.
  40. We’ve always done it this way.
  41. We’d lose money in the long run.
  42. Don’t rock the boat.
  43. That’s what we can expect from the staff.
  44. Has anyone else ever tried it?
  45. Let’s look into it further.
  46. We’ll have to answer to the stockholders.
  47. Quit dreaming.
  48. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  49. That’s too much ivory tower.
  50. It’s too much work.

creativity-takes-courage-henri-matisse-inspirational-quote In response to some of those, I either realize the following: this is not the space to proceed, I have to adjust my idea pitch, now is not the time, the team is not the right one, I ask open ended questions, I present arguments for the idea, or just go ahead with the idea if I’m passionate about it, I proceed if it’s realistic for me and not in contravention of my job. How do you overcome these phrases?

Why do we innovate?

With the rise of entrepreneurship, innovation and coming up with the next “big” idea, is there such thing as over-saturation? How do we reflect and become more self-aware about our intentions?
How can we discern genuine approaches from those that are more limited in scope and perhaps even tokenistic?

Here are some reasons, in no particular order, that point out why we are drawn to carving out our own path and how in order to amplify impact. We should also be aware of how we define success through our actions.

To identify and solve a problem
To obtain specific expertise
To supplement a new lifestyle
To act as a catalyst for change
To be an objective strategist
To teach and learn
To try something new
Bring new energy into your life
To implement ideas fast
Do only what you love… eventually

Any others?

Redfine the Status Quo: Networking and Entrepreneurs

Rather than spend hours alone, researching and going through the same mental processes of coming up with a business or social venture, what would it be like if you went through a new process. One amongst a group of like-minded strangers? The results would prove beneficial.

In a time of rapid socio-economical and technological change and growth, keeping up (not with the Kardashians) can be daunting. Further, shortening the learning curve and finding the right support systems and motivation to move successfully forward can be a vital counterattack to societal constructs set up to prevent females from entering male dominant spaces. That’s what SheEo founder Vicki Saunders is accomplishing – redefining female entrepreneurship through education and workshops on supporting,  and building up the networks and future businesses led by girls and women beyond the business mentality to include the soft skills.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 12.17.57 PM

I attended the IdeaFest on Tuesday March 3, 2015 at the North York Civic Centre, Toronto, and was inspired by women at all phases of business development and  received some networking and tools. All with a hopeful vision that I too will one day create something with social impact. More questions than answers arose: Why me? Why now? How do I get there?

A great ideation tool is the 5 minute brainstorm (see image on right). The advice andScreen Shot 2015-03-04 at 12.17.44 PM resources a group of ~ 40 women came up with in less than 5 minutes on 1 specific question is a great starting point when you’ve hit a mental block. Yet you might not have a room of 40 women, however events similar in nature can do the trick. Check eventbrite, Enterprise Toronto or SheEO for events.

Just starting can be daunting when we know the internet is overflowing with an abundance of knowledge, info, opinion and sometimes conflicting material. Trouble shooting and not knowing where you are going wrong or what questions to ask or what the next steps are can be even more cumbersome without direction – Vicki emphasized the importance of seeking a mutually beneficial mentor. One study revealed in Forbes, 1 in 5 women have never even had a mentor (source). Yet it seems that women are up for the challenge, with much support behind them, seen here in the “Business case for Gender Equality.

There is an extensive body of knowledge on why we need more women in leadership positions, for e.g. why Women are more effective Leaders via Business insider. We also need to do more than just “Lean In” to close the wage gap of .77 cents to every dollar a male earns, but also learn from those who won’t lean in like Vanessa Garcia because submitting is not the answer, and we also need to include those who voice the complete absence of representation within those books such as marginalized women or single moms, for example. And the need for a narrative that moves away from the status quo, which centres on men as the central point from which we must measure ourselves – that is not equality, that is not feminism. And so the adventure becomes, how will you define your success?

SheEo – website
SheEO – book
Women in Leadership Canada