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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Cultural appropriation problematic

    How many Cherokee princesses, rice paddy farmers, tequila-slinging banditos and turbaned snake charmers did you see tromping through the streets of Tucson last weekend?

    Halloween festivities often encourage and accept cultural appropriation, and that’s a problem we should all be concerned about.

    The day after parties cease, appropriative costumes are thrown aside like a fad, but the attitudes that prompted us to put them on are not fleeting — they are part of a larger power structure that can’t be so easily discarded.

    WiseGEEK, one of the few sites that defines cultural appropriation, calls it “the act of borrowing aspects of another culture.” But that definition is is too euphemistic.

    Borrowing implies respect, mutuality and understanding. Cultural appropriation, however, is not about exchange; it is about taking without comprehending.

    When we put on costumes that caricature another culture, we have not been invited as guests to partake. We have forced our way in, taken control and reframed the culture to suit our own purposes.

    Nolan Cabrera, an assistant professor in the College of Education who studies race and racism, pointed out that the students donning costumes purporting to represent Mexican Americans or Native Americans are often attending parties where the targeted group is not even present.
    This is tied into a certain ignorance of the other, a lack of understanding of that culture’s signs and symbols.

    For instance, Nancy Parezo, a professor of American Indian Studies, said that in Native American cultures, the right to wear certain things, like feathered headdresses, must be earned through deeds. To wear one casually, as part of a drunken evening of debauchery, displays not only an unwillingness to learn about and appreciate Native American traditions, but also makes a mockery of them and shows a fundamental disrespect.

    Stereotypes also play a huge role in the creation and donning of culturally appropriative costumes.
    Here, Parezo said, iconic features and tropes that evoke the sense of a culture are favored over actual distinguishing factors. Therefore, all Native American tribes become muddled into one “generic Indian of the Western imagination.”

    Likewise, all the varied Asian cultures become our make-believe idea of an Asian derived from film or television, and we forget regional differences in any of these countries or cultures. Those are too complicated for Halloween, too restrictive.

    When stereotypes come into play, there is no interest in seeing those from other cultures as real people. Many times, there is no distinction between the campiness and theatricality of a costume — the fantasy — and the true existence of a group.

    Through these attitudes, the targeted groups become severely reduced as human beings and limited in their ability to identify as whatever they choose. In effect, a people becomes only their stereotype, Cabrera said.

    Cabrera also said that seeing these costumes can remind minority groups that their peers do not see them as equals, which creates a “hostile racial campus climate,” not the inclusive and diverse environment we want to foster for the education of all.

    Many students that dress in the inaccurate garb of another culture on Halloween probably don’t mean offense. They needed something cheap to wear and snatched one of these costumes off the discount rack at Savers.

    However, that nonchalant attitude toward taking another group’s short-hand identity and trying it on for a day, trying it on for fun, before going back to a place of privilege, speaks volumes about our society.

    We should never — not one week, not one day out of the year — feel complacent about oppression.

    Katelyn Kennon is a sophomore studying journalism, creative writing and anthropology. Follow her @dailywildcat.

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