Since starting Expedition Subsahara, the theme of cultural appropriation has come up over and over again. This has been a tough topic for me because I do everything in my power to try not to blur any lines, because I understand the history of this country and first and foremost, I want to be respectful.
My goal is to connect cultures. When I teach things about Senegalese culture, traditions and heritage — and when I learn and then teach about other African cultures — I feel like I’m creating a space in which people who aren’t Senegalese or African, can better understand our traditions. With knowledge comes respect for other cultures, which I think is the best way to grow as a human. When you immerse yourself in surroundings that aren’t your own, you normalize those things and begin to appreciate the beauty in our differences.
To me, it’s through teaching that appropriation is stripped out of the conversation and replaced with appreciation. In the descriptions of products, in sharing information on social media, educating about the beadwork and weaving, I’m sharing a part of myself. It’s my hope that a person can’t have an Expedition Subsahara product without knowing something about the culture and the artisans who created the product. It’s my belief that every company should promote their who, what, where and why, because that’s how companies can help create a better world.
When the conversation comes to cultural appropriation and Expedition Subsahara, I believe that although well meaning, it’s misguided. I stand by my products because I’m teaching the world about my culture in the best way I know how. I’m working to normalize our differences. When you buy Expedition Subsahara products, wear the necklaces, carry the clutches and display baskets in your home, be very proud that you’re embracing a mission that makes the world a better place. Be very proud that with the piece of art, came a piece of knowledge that you can then pass on to your tribe. That’s something to be proud of.