Students sat in a large circle in the middle of Casa Loma on Oct. 20 at 7 p.m awaiting the discussion about cultural appropriation at the “Hallo-We-Need To Talk” event, reminiscent of gatherings last year on the same topic.
Almost one year ago, an on-campus incident had students, faculty, and the administration talking about cultural appropriation and the role race plays in students’ experiences. Recent alum Jonathan Garcia, organizer of last year’s discussion, detailed the incident that catalyzed the discussion in the Redlands Bulldog last year:
“As I entered the lobby of the theatre, I noticed a stack of sombreros being sold next to an assortment of costumes and accessories. At first, I stood and stared. But after processing what was going on, I became upset and left…
Acting on high emotions, I returned to the Wallichs theatre and bought the remaining sombreros in stock—17, in total… With two signs stapled on every sombrero, one that read “SOLD ON CAMPUS” and the other, “THIS IS NOT A FUCKING COSTUME”, 17 students wore the sombreros throughout the day, creating dialogue and awareness.”
The demonstration by these students contributed to the widespread dialogue that ensued on campus, around issues of diversity and inclusion, in the form of one-on-one, class, and school-wide discussions.
This year, seven diversity organizations co-sponsored and co-facilitated a rendition of last year’s discussion with the hopes of rekindling a dialogue about how cultural appropriation can be harmful on varying scales, from the global community to roommates here on campus. Representatives from BLACC, Orale, ASA, NASU, FIE, MESA, and Alpha Chi Delta split the attendees into five groups to have small-group discussions.
The talk began with the question: “What is cultural appropriation?” Many defined it as a privileged group taking another group’s culture for aesthetic reasons, while not taking the time to understand the culture.
Students brought up how people, such as Kylie Jenner, will wear some form of cultural clothing and be seen as “artistic” or “hipster,” but when someone of that culture wears that same piece of clothing, they are seen as “dirty.”
Aside from it being disrespectful, appropriating “perpetuates stereotypes,” said junior April Hong, a representative from ASA and Alpha Chi Delta.
Additionally, students asserted that while cultural appropriation happens on a larger scale during Halloween, the damaging seizures of cultural identity happens every day.
“I think you just have to understand the history of the cultures … and not discredit anyone’s culture,” Senior Maddie Ryan added.
“During Halloween, [wearing culture as costumes] takes on a mocking tone,” a student explained. Costumes made out of stereotypes of cultures are put up for sale for Halloween and people are making money from this appropriation. Because these kinds of costumes are readily available for consumers, it is seen as okay and “just for fun.”
“It is our job as consumers to not feed into that … It is our responsibility in that system to be conscious consumers… When you spend your money [buying culturally appropriated goods], those are the morals you are supporting,” Senior Ilana Ludovico said.
Within that conversation, Junior Damara Pratt responded.
“I think that the root of this is actually colonialism, it’s not just consumerism,” Pratt said. “It’s the idea that white countries who have money and power can take whatever they want from other cultures… It shapes the world. It’s a lot more insidious than just thoughtless costumes.”
Pratt also pointed out that when one takes something from another country, “they do not take the struggle, do not take the identity.” This is a point that many students also emphasized.
“If that’s not modern-day colonialism, I don’t know what is,” Pratt said.
To many students, wearing costumes is blatant cultural appropriation, but they wondered aloud whether there are less-obvious forms or more far-reaching consequences. Is it cultural appropriation if one buys goods from another country and wears or consumes them in the U.S? Is it cultural appropriation if one is of mixed race and does not know much about one culture but wears that culture’s clothing?
Students kept at these questions, finding more complexity and ambiguity at each turn.
Apart from those questions, one of the concerns of the attendees was that although these conversations happen on many college campuses, the dialogue about cultural appropriation is not one that is had in a typical home. This lack of dialogue often contributes to damaging behavior. “So how do we move forward from here?” a student asked.
“We have to change our culture, we have to learn and teach respect for people,” Pratt said.