The media plays an incredibly important role in society today, making up a lot of what we know and see and influencing our daily lives. This has meant that the media’s increasing influence brings to light various issues. One of the main issues that is constantly being raised and discussed is cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is generally brought to light due to a negative influence in the media, whether it be Katy Perry dressing up as a Geisha for a performance (see previous post for more info), or Kylie Jenner wearing dreadlocks, (Eldridge 2016). This issue of Jenner wearing dreadlocks prompted major backlash from online users as well as actress Amandla Stenberg, who released the video, “Don’t Cash Crop my Cornrows” that went viral after its release, (Eldridge 2016).
Or perhaps cultural appropriation is brought up in the media due to yet another ignorant celebrity dressing up for Halloween. Such as Julianne Hough, who dressed as Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren from Orange is the New Black, (Dionne 2013). If Hough had solely worn the orange jumpsuit as well as the characters iconic Bantu-knotted hair, this would have been fine. However, she topped the costume off with makeup-darkened skin, otherwise known as blackface. Blackface has been used throughout history to not only dehumanize African Americans, but it is also historically linked to the systematic oppression and institutionalized abuse that African Americans went through, (Leiva 2015). Therefore, blackface is racist and anyone wearing it, even if they don’t have bad intentions, should be called out for doing so.
Cultural appropriation is so commonly highlighted during Halloween, that a group of University students in Ohio have created a campaign to put a stop to this, (STARS 2013). The student organization, known as students teaching about racism in society, or STARS, created posters with the aim to “educate and facilitate discussion about racism and to promote racial harmony and to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings,” (STARS 2013).
“The “we’re not a costume” campaign may be timed for Halloween, but it’s a reaction to an attitude that’s accepted every day as normal,” (Bui 2011).
These posters, which focus on the racist costumes people wear during Halloween were shared online via Tumblr and went viral shortly after, allowing a conversation and dialogue to start, (Sipin 2011). This campaign highlights how many people in today’s society turn cultures or minorities into caricatures that they can ‘try on’ or ‘dress up as,’ instead of respecting and understanding the history that goes along with the culture or the cultural pieces they are wearing or claiming as their own, (Dionne 2013). Although this campaign emphasizes Halloween as the issue, in reality, cultural appropriation is present everyday; it does not reserve itself to only come out on Halloween. For example, this practice has become so common that Osheaga, a music festival in Montreal has banned First Nation headdresses from being worn, (Marsh 2015). They have done this in an effort to “respect and honour” the First Nations people and to discourage ignorant, racist behaviour (Marsh 2015).
“It is insulting for members of foreign nations and their descendants to witness their treasured ethnic traditions reduced to cheap and hollow caricatures, all in the name of commercialism,” (Eckhardt 2015).
The “we’re not a costume” campaign makes it glaringly obvious that racism and cultural appropriation are still alive and thriving in society today. With the media playing a critical role in shaping cultural appropriation, as often we see incorrect cultural messages and watch as the offending musician claims innocence, which has the ability to stop dialogue before it even starts, (Dionne 2013). However, we have to be careful that when trying to avoid cultural appropriation that we ensure that cultural isolationism does not occur. This can be avoided by remembering that; “international cultural co-operation must be based on respect for cultural identity, recognition of the dignity and value of all cultures, national independence and sovereignty, and non-intervention,” (UNESCO 2002).
Therefore, we as individuals have the ability to start a dialogue and help put a stop to cultural appropriation by understanding how it translates into our behaviour and is exacerbated by media stereotypes. The first step is to stop buying into these stereotypes and recognize them as such.
Bui, K 2011, Halloween no excuse for racism, ignorance, The Daily Wildcat, viewed 21 August 2016, <http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu/index.php/article/2011/10/halloween_no_excuse_for_racism_ignorance>.
Dionne, E 2013, It’s a Happy Halloween For Racists, Mic, weblog post, 30 October, viewed 19 August 2016, <https://mic.com/articles/70723/it-s-a-happy-halloween-for-racists#.hto5YmRpB>.
Eckhardt, R 2015, ‘The Fine Line Between Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Diffusion,’ The Huffington Post, 11 April, viewed 8 August 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-eckhardt/the-fine-line-between-cul_b_8470092.html>.
Eldridge, R. M 2016, ‘Identity Through and Beyond Our Hair: The Complicated Intersections of Self and Culture(s),’ paper presented at the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association (SEWSA) Conference, Winthrop University, 2 April, viewed 20 August 2016, <http://digitalcommons.winthrop.edu/sewsa/2016/fullschedule/128/>.
Leiva, L 2015, Blackface: Simplified For Those Who Still Don’t Get It, Bust, Weblog Post, 10 May, viewed 20 August 2016, <http://bust.com/feminism/14847-blackface-simplified-for-those-who-still-don-t-get-it.html>.
Marsh, C 2015, ‘Osheaga’s headdress ban shows festival’s zero tolerance for cultural appropriation, The Guardian, 18 July, viewed 21 August 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/jul/17/osheaga-music-festival-headdress-cultural-appropriation>.
Sipin, M 2011, “We’re a culture, not a costume.” STARS, a student org at Ohio University,’ Msipin, weblog post, 23 October, viewed 21 August 2016, < https://msipin.com/2011/10/23/racism-think/>.
STARS 2013, Poster Campaign, Students Teaching About Racism in Society, viewed 20 August 2016, <https://www.ohio.edu/orgs/stars/Poster_Campaign.html>.
UNESCO 2002, Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, viewed 21 August 2016, <http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001271/127162e.pdf>.