During a Halloween weekend workshop, Ontario Public Interest Research Group’s Lydia Collins facilitated discussion about cultural appropriation in and beyond Halloween costumes.
Collins chose to focus on everyday cultural appropriation and micro aggressions. Each year, groups on campus provide explanations about cultural appropriation, why it is harmful and how to avoid it.
“It’s 2018; ignorance isn’t an excuse,” said Collins.
Last year, Collins helped run a campaign through the Student Justice Centre aimed at promoting cultural appreciation and not appropriation. Collins read several comments the campaign posts received online aloud in the workshop. The backlash the campaign prompted ranged from annoyance to death threats and came from Brock students, local citizens and strangers from across the globe.
Beyond Halloween costumes, Collins noted cultural appropriation in sports, with teams named for caricatures of cultural groups.
Collins discussed Miley Cyrus as an example, as well. The former Disney star spent years heavily drawing from her perception of Black culture in her performances and public persona, often seen wearing cornrows and twerking. Cyrus rapidly shifted her trademark aesthetic to cornfields and acoustic guitars as though that time did not happen.
“My friend Renée used this phrase. She said, “[Cyrus] vacationed in Blackness,” said Collins. “When she was done with it she took it off and went back to how she was. We don’t get that privilege. We don’t get to take off being Black at the end of the day.”
Attendee Emmanuel Harawa brought up recent debate about record label executives and whether they can be considered culturally appropriative. Harawa described how predominantly white executives profit heavily from the work of young black artists.
Collins noted that the element of profit, especially financially, is often a large component of cultural appropriation. Groups who are demonized for aspects of their culture see individuals like Cyrus, record label executives and the Kardashian-Jenner family then profit from these aspects without facing the same stigma.
The Kardashian-Jenner family in particular is known for extensively appropriating from Black cultures. Kylie Jenner faced backlash when she posted photos with her hair in cornrows, but also received overwhelmingly positive attention for the hairstyle that fans renamed “box braids.”
Collins highlighted stigma around Black hair and hairstyles, discussing several incidents of Black people facing school suspensions, discrimination in hiring and more because of their hair.
“The things white people profit from are the same things people of colour are demonized for,” said Collins.
Another prominent discussion topic was the attitude towards dialect and accent, particularly the elevation of accents from predominantly white places over other accents.
Collins focused heavily on discussing how to appreciate other cultures without being appropriative.
“If you’re really interested in a culture, learn about it. Don’t just take the stereotypes,” said Collins.
“Learning from the source is the best way to do it,” said Harawa. “You can only act from your level of perception.”
Note: Lydia Collin is an employee of The Brock Press, currently as a sales representative.