Carried Away Spring 2015 - Page 14

Oscha Bush Medicine designed by Elizabeth Close Cultural Appropriation We’re thrilled to have talented Elizabeth Close, Aboriginal artist and blogger who has collaborated with local and international babywearing brands, write for us about cultural appropriation. So, it’s late. Too late, really. Dead-of-night late. So late that most reasonable people are fast asleep. I’m breastfeeding my baby and facebooking, and someone has tagged me in a thread about cultural appropriation. A comment was made by an Australian babywearer, words to the effect of, “This is all so over the top! Why are we wasting time with this politically correct stuff? Isn’t babywearing about holding our babies close?! This is just a waste of time!” Deep breath, Liz. Deep breath. The fact is that I encounter this type of vague, privileged commentary often: middle-class white people who often can’t see past their white privilege enough to be able listen and learn from marginalised groups. And as an Aboriginal woman, babywearer and someone who has taught cultural competence, I aim to politely and succinctly share my perspective. Often it isn’t received well, but I figure I have to try, because that voice has to come from somewhere. Back to the matter at hand - so what is the problem with what she said? As a term, cultural appropriation isn’t widely understood. Often when people are accused of appropriating the culture of others, they automatically assume they’re being called racist, which just isn’t true. So what is cultural appropriation? In its most basic definition, cultural appropriation is “When someone adopts aspects of a culture that is not their own.” (Johnson, 2015). However, a far deeper understanding on how and when this becomes problematic is more to do with power imbalance: “When aspects of a culture that has been systematically oppressed, are adopted by members of the dominant culture that has oppressed them.” (Johnson, 2015). The inherent problem with dismissing cultural appropriation as a concept is that it comes from a place of privilege. It means that white people can ignore the effects of cultural appropriation because it doesn’t affect them because of the benefits afforded to white people through white privilege. So how is this related to babywearing? Babywearing is an ancient practice, borne from necessity. Whilst there are examples of babywearing in early Europe, the overwhelming majority of babywearing happens in developing countries, and happens through necessity with whatever fabric they have to hand. It is learnt woman-to-woman. It is the antithesis of middle-class white women learning to double hammock with a $200 purpose-made woven wrap and a doll, while watching YouTube. And this isn’t to say that the developing world has ownership of babywearing, just that we need to be aware of, and acknowledge our position of privilege and pay homage to those women. For more information about white privilege, I recommend this article. Regarding cultural appropriation in the natural parenting community in general, (Sian Hannagan 2015) 14 carried away | Spring 2015 | Cultural Appropriation Anangu woman Marcena enjoying her custom Ergo Liz decorates for Ergobaby and Tula for charity auctions sums it up perfectly: “When it comes to the physiological nurturing of infants, no one ‘owns’ that relationship you build with your baby. However having an awareness of how we integrate elements of other cultural approaches into our day to day nurturing is important. Many people feel they are honouring a certain culture when they take traditions into their own cultural narrative. But this is not always based on a true and honest exchange.” Carrier Design Cultural appropriation of designs and iconography in the babywearing world is another topic that has been hotly debated of late. Indigenous designs on woven baby wraps and whether or not they constitute cultural appropriation has been discussed with gusto. Scottish compan H