Students recognize cultural appropriation Reply

By Kayli HertelManaging Editor

College students love Halloween. It’s a time to celebrate, embrace your inner costume designer, and dance the night away at the annual Creeps n’ Ghouls Dance. But what Halloween is not about is being disrespectful, mocking, or participating in the act of cultural appropriation. But what is cultural appropriation and what does it have to do with Halloween?

In an effort to demystify this phrase, Jesse Tauriac, director of the Donahue Institute, along with members of other departments held a two part series of lecture-based discussions on this topic. “Most Lasell students care about others and really want Lasell to be a place that is welcoming and accepting. I think these conversations help raise awareness and I also think that these conversations give people ideas on how to respond,” said Tauriac.

According to the materials handed out at the events, “cultural appropriation is the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another. It generally is applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to the appropriating culture.”

Image courtesy of Jesse Tauriac

Image courtesy of Jesse Tauriac

The first part of this series took place on Thursday, October 22, and included a student-run panel focusing on Halloween costumes. Dr. Adrienne Keene, a Native American scholar and writer led the second part of this series on Tuesday, October 27 and discussed cultural appropriation in fashion and pop culture.

Popular examples of cultural appropriation are Sexy Pocahontas, Mexican Amigo or Pleasing Geisha, titles these costumes are frequently given in stores and online. While it may seem innocent to wear these costumes, the impact can be powerful and hurtful to others even without malicious intent.

The panel began with a metaphor by Rinne Früster describing two friends tossing around a Frisbee until one accidentally hits the other. “The key to cultural appropriation is intent versus impact. I might not have intended to hit my friend Abbie in the face with a Frisbee, but the point is I did, and it hurt. We might not mean to offend people but we need to recognize that we can,” said Früster.

Each member of the panel shared an important message. Some students shared deep personal anecdotes of moments when their culture was appropriated directly or indirectly in front of them. Others commented on the importance of consent during the holiday and that just because a Pocahontas costume is easy to make doesn’t mean that you should.

One member of the panel, Emily Huynh who is a first year student, felt strongly about the use of symbols when it comes to Halloween. “Stereotypical symbols make costumes easy to recognize. But is someone recognizing your Halloween costume worth offending someone? No, people can’t choose what they are upset by but we at Lasell can choose our costumes,” said Huynh.

This series began as a request, by senior management, to Tauriac to allow open discussion about the topic. With the Multicultural Activism directed study already interested in the topic, the students in the class took on the first part of the series. The second part influenced and arranged by Professor Sarabeth Golden’s interest in Dr. Adrienne Keene’s blog.

On Tuesday, Keene, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, came to speak about cultural appropriation in pop culture and fashion specifically regarding native peoples. Keene is the founder and blogger behind the blog, Native Appropriations, which reflects on how Native cultures are portrayed in the modern world, especially in the context of stereotypes.

These stereotypes come in many forms and are heavily influenced by Hollywood. Examples include mascots for well-known sports teams, characters in Disney movies, or the logos on beverages. Keene makes it obvious that Native people are rarely represented in contemporary culture and when they are it is based on stereotypes, which result in a huge misrepresentation.

Photo by Kayli Hertel Dr. Adrienne Keene reflects on Native Americans in pop culture.

Photo by Kayli Hertel
Dr. Adrienne Keene reflects on Native Americans in pop culture.

When it comes to evaluating whether or not something is an example of cultural appropriation, Keene encourages individuals to use Susan Scafidi’s “Three S’s of Cultural Appropriation” as a guideline. These guidelines are crucial to know for those looking to purchase fashion items that may be examples of cultural appropriation, and expands across cultures.

The first S stands for source and individuals need to ask themselves where this piece is coming from. Is it coming from a Native individual or from a big name retailer? The second S stands for significance, where the main issue is what is the significance of this item to a certain culture? Is it spiritually or sacredly significant? The final S stands for similarity, which begs the question of how similar is this big name brand’s piece to an actual Native designer’s work.

“It’s not that I don’t want people to be able to incorporate Native fashion or design into their wardrobes, I just want them to do it right. I want them to buy from Native people and designers because the understanding is that Native designers know how to represent their cultures. They know what’s off limits, what’s acceptable for non-Natives to wear and buy and then it gives the power and money back to Native communities,” said Keene.

Those interested in appreciating different cultures rather than appropriating them in terms of fashion should use the Internet as a guide. Look for online boutiques such as the Beyond Buckskin Boutique, which features Native fashion by only Natives, when it comes to adding to your fashion collection. This is the best way to honor, respect, and appreciate cultures of interest.

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