Letters to the EditorOpinion

Guest Viewpoint: Cultural appropriation legalizes racism

This piece reflects the views of the author, Olivia Decklar, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]

Accepting cultural appropriation so people can continue to “exchange” cultures is problematic, to say the least.

After reading the recent article that urges readers to dress up in sombreros this Halloween, my jaw dropped. Was I actually reading that a reenactment of the violent way white people have destroyed cultures and claimed them as their own is acceptable?

While wearing a sombrero is not necessarily the same as painting a white face in black, Emerald opinion writer Mateo Sundberg’s example opens the door to the same demonstrative racism as blackface. Sundberg is not Mexican, and therefore his body and culture is not for society to “try on.”

This conversation about cultural appropriation still continues and even some artists find it acceptable. In 2013, singer Katy Perry culturally appropriated by dressing as a geisha at the American Music Awards. Los Angeles Times guest blogger Nico Lang wrote that Perry’s problematic behavior, “highlights the power imbalance that remains between those in power and those who’ve been historically marginalized.”

When one’s culture is appropriated, justice is out of sight. If appropriating cultures is acceptable, harming the people of those cultures is then somehow justified. Allowing people to take a piece of someone’s culture and pretend to be a part of it perpetuates the racist ideas that are letting Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump swear to deport 11 million “Latino families.”

Black bodies were made into costumes for stereotyping in “The Black and White Minstrel Show,” a glaring fact in the history of the United States. However, people still paint their lighter-skinned faces black on Halloween because they want to “try on” being black for a day. Because it happens to be Oct. 31, this racist behavior is unacceptable.

According to Sundberg, however, by cultural appropriating, people are able to “exchange” cultures. If a person is not part of a culture, they can never be a part of it. To say cultural appropriating is “exchanging” makes little sense, as to exchange means to give and to share in return for something. People whose cultures are appropriated by those outside of their culture are given nothing in return but waves of anger, hurt and humiliation.

Racism is seething in this country and cultural appropriation is only making that fact more alarmingly true. To culturally appropriate, or “try on” another culture, this Halloween is to say systematic racism is absolutely justified.

In order to make this society a better world for all people to live in, everyone needs to respect one another. This Halloween, respect other cultures by not wearing their traditions for entertainment.

Note: Olivia Decklar wrote for the Emerald in 2015. She currently has no affiliation with the publication.

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