KTW 11| Cultural Appropriation & Sustainability with Francesca Willow

Francesca Willow, the author of the Sustainable Lifestyle & Social Justice blog Ethical Unicorn, grew up an only child in Northern England. When she was young she spent a lot of time in nature, by the sea and traveling off the beaten path with her family. Social justice issues were important to Francesca’s parents and they made sure she was armed with a greater understanding of the world. After getting her bachelor’s degree in Contemporary Dance, Francesca moved on to her Masters in Theater and Performance Studies from King’s College. This degree focused on how artists use their mediums to talk about current social issues.

Francesca has been based in London for the last 6 years but performs around the world. In April of 2016, she started her blog Ethical Unicorn on a whim. Originally she had planned to focus on fashion and zero waste. After she began researching fast fashion and all the atrocities that come with it- slave labor, exploitation, appropriation… her focus shifted.

Now Ethical Unicorn provides readers a place to learn about big issues around human rights. And Francesca connects the dots to sustainability. With overarching themes like Cultural Appropriation followed by spotlights on individuals or companies doing it the right way.

This weeks conversation was a tough one for me. I thought that I was fairly informed and aware. But after talking with Francesca I can see I have a lot of work to do. Personally, by changing old beliefs I didn’t know I had and professionally by taking more of an initiative to learn.

Francesca Willow sitting by a window Talking Cultural Appropriation and Sustaiability

We talk about Cultural Appropriation vs Appreciation- the difference, Francesca explains, lies between taking from and being invited to join. These big topics get very hairy very quickly. A lot of the time people don’t realize that they are even doing it (hi, please read below about spirit animals*). And there are, of course, differences in opinion.  The main issue, Francesca tells me, is the power imbalance. As long as white people benefit from a system where minorities suffer we can’t just take. (This is also why racism does not work both ways, but that’s another conversation).

Ok so now what? You realize you have a lot to learn, you start looking around your house and seeing all the native inspired (read: stolen) prints. Dang, it.  It occurs to you that the term “spirit animal”, is most likely cultural appropriation. So you look it up. Your instincts are right on this one. So you apologize. You move forward. You remember to pay attention to this feeling in your gut that is part guilt and part doubt. You err on the side of caution.

I’m sorry, it was not my intention to steal from a sacred ceremony adapted from indigenous cultures to talk about my fascination with animals. It feels embarrassing that this, and many other common practices and turns of phrase had not occurred to me as being hurtful. So going forward I will ask guests instead their favorite animal.

And that is Francesca’s goal. To provide a place to read about these issues that are so ingrained in our societies and ways of life we can easily overlook them. As well as those issues that are hidden from the public on purpose- ie. slave labor, terrible factory conditions etc. She hopes to provide a platform for diverse voices to speak out, first hand about the issues important to them. Giving people an opportunity to share and learn. To admit fault and instead of drowning in guilt (hi), move forward, create change and use your position, whatever it is, for good.

Francesca writes thoughtfully and inclusively. To make sure that she is inviting people into these important conversations instead of pointing fingers. It’s crucial to have a safe place to go to learn and be heard. I am a big fan of her work and I am looking forward to an informed future.



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