The Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service hosts Pizza & Politics every Wednesday at noon to discuss a current political topic. Leavitt Center student employees research the topic and moderate the conversation. These discussions expose students to a variety of important issues and encourages them to share their own perspectives while learning all sides of an issue. Free pizza is provided for all who attend.
In a diverse country like the United States, it is a common occurrence to come into contact with cultures and ethnicities from all over the world. Respecting and seeking to understand both our own culture and the cultures of others help to foster a safe and inviting atmosphere free from oppression and judgement. Leavitt Center Moderators Autumn Boren, a sophomore English education major, and Jordan Call, a senior criminal justice major, led a discussion about the differences between appropriating a culture and appreciating a culture.
These are some of the questions asked during the discussion.
What is the difference between culture appropriation and culture appreciation?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines culture appropriation as, “The act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect that culture.”
Beyond this definition, several individuals mentioned that certain aspects of cultures are simply off limits to those who are not a part of that culture. For example, the wearing of Native American headdresses or other clothing items that are sacred to that particular group.
A few celebrities were called out for culture appropriation. Justin Bieber for wearing his hair in dreadlocks, Kylie Jenner for putting her hair into corn rows, and Katy Perry for donning traditional Geisha attire. These examples illustrate the common practice of adopting certain styles because it may be “trendy” or “edgy” and not because the individual has an appreciation and understanding of the culture from which those styles originate.
Some members of the audience expressed their dismay for the corn rows in particular, stating that corn rows originate from the time of slavery and was a hairstyle slave owners would use to identify their slaves and was sometimes used as a punishment. Individuals who wear their hair in corn rows may not be aware of the oppressive history of that hairstyle but it can be deeply offensive to some African American people regardless of its intention.
How can Halloween costumes based on cultures be harmful?
One of the responses to this question spoke to the offensive nature of sexualizing cultures during Halloween. The example was used of someone wearing a coconut bra and hula skirt for the purpose of looking “sexy” for Halloween without any acknowledgement or understanding of Hawaiian culture. This is an obvious example of appropriation and not appreciation.
It was also mentioned that often costumes perpetuate stereotypes and/or reduce people of a culture to a caricature, meaning that traits of a certain ethnicity are hyperbolized and made out to look ridiculous or comical. Such practices would not be acceptable during any other time but during Halloween, they are often allowed and even celebrated.
Is it appropriate for mascots to be based on racial groups?
This question came in conjunction with examples of racially-based mascots like the Cedar High Redmen, the Cleveland Indians, and the Boston Celtics.
A variety of opinions were expressed in response to this prompt. Some expressed a belief that mascots should never be based on race or culture, claiming that there are plenty of mascot options out there without any potential to offend anyone.
Some stood in firm defense of race-based mascots. The University of Utah in particular was mentioned as a school with a race-based mascot - the Utes - and has a very positive relationship with the Ute Tribe and seeks to educate their students about Native American culture. Knowledge of and respect for Native Americans may not be as common at that particular institution if the mascot were different.
Others expressed that it is more situational. Team mascots like the Celtics, the Chiefs, or the Spartans are based on race and/or ethnicity but are not negative terms for members of those groups. Whereas mascots like the redmen or redskins are potentially harmful because of the implications and historically repressive basis for those names.
These events will be broadcast weekly via Facebook live. The video of this discussion can be found here.
The Leavitt Center also hosts a weekly podcast (How It Stands) following up on that week’s Pizza and Politics discussion. The podcast for this topic can be found here.