By Tamera “EON” Pillay, Staff Writer
If you do not know a lot about cultural appropriation, then the University of Georgia Delta Phi Lambda’s Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation seminar was definitely the place to be the night of Nov. 10.
Sisters Briana “Collateral” Rice and Fanny “Caveat” Chac set up the seminar by asking everyone to be open-minded, to not target a specific culture, to not reference people they know and to be respectful. The event hosted a diverse panel from a variety of Greek-lettered organizations: Phi Beta Sigma, Lambda Theta Alpha, Delta Epsilon Psi, Sigma Sigma Rho and Lambda Phi Epsilon. A diverse crowd attended. The audience first learned the definition of culture and cultural appropriation.
Culture is beliefs, social forms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group. and also the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an organization. Cultural appropriation is the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behaviors from one culture or subculture by another.
A prime example of cultural appropriation is costumes. Cultural clothing can be made into a costume is inappropriate. In reality, however, the things that people appropriate are numerous, ranging from dance moves to food and any general custom.
“Henna is used for Hindu ceremonies, but often I see its use at music festivals,” Nikki “Elite” Thai, a sister of Delta Phi Lambda, said. Hindu leader Rajan Zed said that the bindi has religious significance and should not be used as a fashion accessory. Many people who attended the seminar agreed that celebrities rarely showcase the importance of these symbols.
Turning another culture’s garb into a Halloween costume is often the most offensive kind of appropriation to many people. Companies take a piece of traditional clothing and make it “sexy.” Chac notes Geishas work long and hard to develop talents in the music and art industry, but often in western culture are just perceived as prostitutes. Costumes like the “adult sexy Geisha” costume are always extra short and revealing, similar to the “Bollywood diva” costume, but a majority of these cultural clothings are a lot more conservative.
“When I wear a traditional sari to cultural and religious events, it has to completely cover the body,” said Insha Sayani, one of the panelist for the seminar and a sister from Sigma Sigma Rho.
Similarly, the Qipao is often altered to be laced and short, but Chac said the outfit is suppose to be “form-fitting and lengthy, the sexy version undermines the value and meaning.”
“It gives the culture a bad reputation,” Mason Wong, a panelist and brother of Lambda Phi Epsilon Fraternity, Incorporated, said.
“Yeah, it might be cool in a karate movie, but it’s something I have to live with everyday or else my traditions will die out, he said.”
One caucasian male in the audience brought attention to how gender identity also plays a part in your culture. He also thought it was offensive that how many cisgender (in short, not transgender) males dressed up as Caitlyn Jenner this Halloween.
Culture can also directly impact your community. Recently, people dressed as members of National Panhellenic Council (NPHC) Greek-lettered organizations.
“As a member of the Greek community, I still felt offended by this knowing how much I worked for my letters,” Jennifer “Realm” Kim, a sister from Delta Phi Lambda, said. A panelist and brother of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated agreed the news was offensive to him.
Another well-discussed issue are females, such as Kylie Jenner, who have been wearing cornrows. Rice said the issue is that “they don’t know the struggle behind the braids that black women wear.” When celebrities, who are not black, wear cornrows or items such as the bindi, they are seen as trendy. However, Rice said “when black people wear dreads or cornrows, it is seen as ratchet or ghetto.” She talks about the instance with half-black actress, Zendaya, when a media personnel referenced Zendaya’s dreads as smelling similar to weed and looking ratchet.
There are many other incidents to talk about, but the audience at the seminar also took great anger to the celebration of Cinco De Mayo. “I’m not even Mexican but I know the history,” Genesis Aguilara, sister from Lambda Theta Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, said. “I mean, I guess you can celebrate it, but it’s not a real holiday. People misconstrue what this event actually means.”
A great thing to do is genuinely get to know other cultures. Kim talks about a cultural seminar that she went to held by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, where she learned there are over 20 ways to make an empanada, specific to different Hispanic cultures.
“The thing is, it is hard to control perception,” says Sanisha Balsara a sister of Delta Phi Omega Sorority, Incorporated. However, to catch it when it happens and talk to people about it will surely help.
Something positive to do is give credit to another culture through appreciation. As opposed to Hindu leader Rajan Zed’s comment on pop celebrities using Bindis, others, such as Bollywood actress, Priyanka Chopra, praised Selena Gomez’s choice in her, “Come and Get it” music video as “an embrace of Indian culture.”
During the seminar, a game was played to guess if something was an example of appropriation or appreciation. There were mixed feelings on a lot of them.
To decipher if you’re seeing or committing appropriation, consider authenticity: does the situation honor or alter culture?
Featured and Article Images: Janet Phan