Cultural Organizing and Racial Justice

On November 15th, Arts & Democracy hosted an all-day event about cultural organizing. Through a variety of interactive workshops and exercises, social justice leaders within the arts and education gathered to better grasp and understand how cultural work is implemented within nonprofit work.

As a term, "cultural organizing" is one I am relatively new to. Although I've always had an understanding of the inherent concepts behind cultural organizing, I appreciate that I now have language to express how visual media and artistic expression can be used to advance social and political agendas.

In considering cultural organizing, racial elements must be explored and respected. The essence of cultural organizing stems from various communities of color. The art of storytelling, dance, song, art, and proverbs are fundamental in communities and neighborhoods around the world.

Many of these cultural methods were used for survival. For example, during slavery, African American slaves used song to send coded messages to one another. This foundation has transcended across time and space, to this current age where hip hop, as a musical art form, is platform for social justice messaging.

Through and through, the foundations of cultural organization is rooted in people of color, and this legacy must be respected.

Showing respect for communities of color can be difficult, especially when there is no thorough research or genuine interest in such communities. Herein, the line between cultural empowerment versus cultural appropriation becomes blurred.

Knowing the difference between using elements of cultural to express a social idea, rather than advancing a personal agenda of any kind, is where that difference meets. For cultural organizers to do the work correctly, intense detail must be paid to cultural competency.

Cultural organizing is a flexible form of community mobilization. Although it depends on history, it must be adaptable enough to fit into a contemporary framework. It must be inclusive, while allowing people the space to explore the roots of their own cultural makeup.