What do I do? What do I not do?

Jovana Jovanovska - Senegal

January 21, 2019

Cultural appropriation

The act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own,
especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.

Senegalese culture is very different from my own in many aspects. Some of
those differences are the everyday long greetings on the street, eating the
meals from a communal bowl, compound living, traditional outfits etc. Even
though all of these things are a part of my daily life in this community
right now, they were completely new to me 5 months ago.

In my previous blog, I wrote about how I have learned that if something is
different, it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. This time, however, I want to
talk about my place in this community and how have I adapted to some parts
of the traditions and culture.

Since I have been here, something that I have heard a lot around me –
mainly on social media – has been the term cultural appropriation. As I
read about it, I found myself thinking a lot about myself and my actions in
Senegal. I personally have had braids twice while being here and as
tailoring is my apprenticeship, I’ve had the chance to sew a couple of
traditional Senegalese clothes. That made me think if that would mean that
the term cultural appropriation is connected to my personal experience here?

I put a lot of thought into this. I thought about how happy my host family
was the first time I wore a Senegalese traditional outfit, how they helped
me get ready and complemented my looks the whole time we were walking to
the ceremony. I thought about one of my Friday classes at school (In
Senegal it’s a part of the culture to wear the traditional outfit on
Fridays) and one of my students told me that he was glad I am respecting
their culture. I thought about how sad my students were when I took off my
braids and how some of the girls I befriended offered to do them for me
again. These are just some of the many positive experiences I have had with
my braids and clothes. To be honest, I can’t even remember any negative

During some of the sessions we’ve had with Global Citizen Year, I remember
someone mentioning that if we think that something is a problem in the
community from our perspective, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a
problem for the local community. I don’t know how acceptable is it to
compare this to cultural appropriation, but I decided to do so. If we think
that us wearing traditional clothes or having braids (in the context of
Senegal) is not appropriate, that doesn’t mean that the community
necessarily thinks the same. For the Senegalese people I have talked with
on this topic, wearing their traditional clothes in this context is not
cultural appropriation, but rather a sign of respect towards the culture,
especially when we’re already learning the language, history and traditions
of the country.

If someone has a different approach to this, I would really appreciate you
contact me so we can talk!

Jovana Jovanovska