Cultural Appropriation, Race-Themed Parties, and Other Woes

Over the past school year, I have noticed a troubling amount of race-themed parties being promoted on campus. It wouldn't be as offensive if the organizers of these events were sincerely ignorant of race relations; however, many individuals have voiced concerns, only to be ignored for the sake of a "good time." When you actively ignore concerns - more importantly, real concerns coming from the racial group you are "celebrating," then both you and your tacky, commercialized Wal-Mart poncho are in the wrong.  What does matter is that it's 2015, and it should be common knowledge that race-themed parties or any other forms of cultural appropriation are not okay. You may ask: Ondiek, why isn't this okay? Let me first explain to you what cultural appropriation is. Cultural appropriation is when members of the dominant group in society take certain elements of marginalized culture and adopt it for use in a different context. It is a form of covert racism. So, why is this discriminatory? If I told you all the reasons why it's wrong, this would be a 5000 word paper. Here's a good video that further explain the issue. Let me explain to you what I think are the three most important reasons why cultural appropriation is problematic:
  1. You're perpetuating offensive stereotypes. By dissecting certain elements of a culture, and making these elements hyper-evident, you are furthering racist ideologies. For example, in the context of race-themed parties, if you have a Black-themed party, and don "primitive" apparel, Black face, or gangster-related accessories, you are the wearing the costume while simultaneously contributing to the racialization of that group. I don't really need to explain why stereotypes are problematic.
  2. You're dismissing the racism faced by those who wear visible cultural garments. Moreover, you are neutralizing and dismissing ccertain fragments of a culture so that you can have a fun time. There is a historical context (often in relation to colonialism) that makes them important or sacred to a culture. You are belittling that culture - making it less than what it really is. Think twice.
  3. There's a double standard. As much as we'd all like to think that we live in a post-racial society, the sad reality is that we don't. As minorities, if we choose to be visibly ethnic, we are looked at as "other." We are often bullied, alienated, and looked down upon for it. An elementary-aged Indian girl could be made fun of for wearing a bindi; however, Selena Gomez, and other White-passing people are celebrated for their creativity when they do the same. Similarly, a Black individual could wear dreadlocks and be assumed to be a deviant, while White people who do the same are once again - creative. Looking at you, Iggy.
Students need to come together and recognize that this is wrong. For a university that's as diverse as we are, we all have to make it our mission to educate ourselves on these topics. It's our duty to make the student experience as equitable and accessible to everyone. As long as you are open to learning, you are part of the solution. If you are facing an equity issues in any way, there are many resources around the campus to help you. Here's just a few: U of T Human Resources and Equity. U of T Anti Racism and Cultural Diversity Office. And more resources can be found here. Best, Ondiek  

8 comments on “Cultural Appropriation, Race-Themed Parties, and Other Woes

  1. Great piece! Hopefully the organizers of some of these parties will read it and reflect on some of their choices!

  2. I really want to thank the author of this article for writing this blog post. Navigating this University is already a difficult process, let alone having to see your culture on display as a mockery. This meant a lot to me, and I think it sends a message to students on this campus that being respectful of one another is extremely important, and that includes respecting each other’s cultures and identities. Well articulated and thought out. Great read.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this post Ondiek. You have articulated a lot of things that I have observed on campus and I am so glad you are talking about it. I’m especially happy that you explained “reverse racism” because I find it difficult to explain why it doesn’t exist when I am talking about racism and it is brought up as a kind of counter-argument.

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