Cultural Appropriation: Exploiting or Paying Homage?

Saturday, February 7 at 9 am to 4 pm
ASU Tempe Campus Discovery 250

Event For ASU Community

Research, American history, current events, and the realities of the social climate at ASU and across the country will provide context for this critical dialogue on cultural appropriation, cultural (in)sensitivity and awareness, and “political correctness.” Workshops will feature intergenerational expert speakers to elaborate on and engage attendees on various forms of cultural appropriation, stereotyping, and buffoonery while offering historical perspectives and exploring the sociopolitical and cultural ramifications of these acts and behaviors. Using media, social media, and hip hop, this one-day symposium will challenge participants to undo systematic biases toward becoming agents of change by engaging in meaningful conversations, taking a personal stand, and educating themselves and others through informed social discourse.

Key topics: Blackface and "school spirit", "Redskins" and mascots, Iggy Azalea and hip hop, Day of the Dead and Cinco De Mayo, Political Correctness, among others.

Featuring keynotes by Kat Lazo, Feminist, Youtuber, Critical Thinker and David A. Romero, Latino Spoken Word Artist.

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Co-hosted by Project Humanities and Council of Coalitions

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Event Recap

Tyandrah Ashley

Community Supporter

The beginning activity was a small group task of working with 3-4 people to think of exasmples of cultural appropriation that we've witnessed or read about. A few that we discussed were Halloween costuming, college/professional sports teams (such as the 'Redskins' or the "Illini" of University of Illinois), as well as the content found in many episodes of South Park or Family Guy.

We learned that the swastika--which is normally associated with Hitler and the Holocaust--  was originally part of the Buddhist religion as a symbol for prosperity, peace, and good luck. Unfortuneatly, the reappropriation of the symbol (by use of the Nazi cult) made the symbol no longer accessible by the culture that originally created it.

Kat Lazo spoke about how costumers at parties and holidays perpetuate stereotypes when dressing up as another race or culture. Whiteness is normally associated with "normalcy" and other races are considered exotic/erotic (such as a "sexy Native American") and are belitting to the culture/race they are portraying. She also made note that she once dressed up as other races and has grown from her experiences. She played a humorous video about racism and cultural appropriation by using the metaphor of baking cupcakes. She also played a video about how a young girl was pulled from her elementary school because the administration believed her dread locks to be a "faddish" hairstyle that was not acceptable in a learning environment.

I remember Dr. Neal Lester speaking after, Kat saying that calling someone a 'racist' closes the door to conversation, understanding, and the possibility for change and transformation to that person exibiting offensive behavior. We need to be willing not to label each other so we can both learn and understand one another.

David Romero spoke about music and black culture--many white musicians have the title of "the King" or "the Inventor",  even though many black musicians had been practicing the same music before them. He also spoke about food and America, we have "Americanized" foods such as Panda Express and Taco Bell which strip the culture of the food's rich history and origin.

The Hip-Hop Culture Workshop covered the definition and origin of Hip-Hop, the sensitive nature of the n-word--such as who owns the word, and how lyricism of modern music authenticates and perpetuates modern day buffoonery. We watched a YouTube video called "Rappin for Jesus" which showed a church pastor and his wife rapping about Jesus to recruit new youth into their church--they white people that used hip-hop culture and the n-word.

The Language Workshop covered intersectionality by and how elements one's identity are always connected--such as female, black, heterosexual, etc. Code Switching was discussed to show how people may use one vernacular to communicate with one group of people, then use another vernacular in a different group. For example, many black people code switch when in a professional setting--in doing so they will follow more "traditional" rules of grammar and style in the English language, then speak slang or ebonics around family and close friends. However, American slang is also a real langauge with rules and a true vernacular. 

My takeaway was that we all have the responsibility to be aware of one another's culture in order  to become more respectful and aware of the systems in society. We have to be willing to educate ourselves, attack ideas 'not people,' and to keep an open mind.   

ASU Preparatory High School Student

On Saturday Febuary 7th, 2015, I attended Cultural Appropriation program which was organized by ASU Project Humanities. This event took place at the Discovery Hall. Overall, this was a very good program, and I had such a great experience. Not only what they said was interesting, but they had awesome treats for us. They had a lot of speakers, and the ones that impressed me the most were Kat Lazo, who is a vlogging feminist Media Activist and David A. Romero, a Mexican-American spoken word activist. Through their presentations, I got to learn that cultural appropriation is when someone adopts items from one culture and the uses it as their own even though they are from a WHOLE OTHER CULTURE. When they do this, they sometimes change the whole meaning and can even end up offending others. During Kat’s presentation, she spoke about how costumes can end up having racial meaning and how they contribute to cultural appropriation. She made this point that you can’t steal another culture’s identity for a day, especially when that culture has nothing to do with you because it can really offend people. She even gave us an example on how a 7 year old African American girl was banned from her school because of their dress code which said “dreadlocks were not allowed.” This is really helped me reflect on how I have done this by dressing up as Indian and Anglo-American, and now I know that I need to be careful with what I choose to wear for Halloween because many of them do have a bit of cultural appropriation. I also learned that American restaurants like Taco Bell and Chipotle have stolen Mexican culture and have made their products out of artificial ingredients and how many of the well-known music started out from African Americans then it was stolen from them by the Whites.

In this program, we also had 3 workshops in which we had group discussions and spoke stuff that can be cultural appropriation. The First was Hip Hop which concentrated on drugs, poverty, gangs and transformation and how the major consumer and the artist are whites. We also spoke about how words affect people especially when used in the wrong terms like the “slang” or saying that “Blacks don’t speak English correctly.” On the last workshop, we got to witness that cultural appropriation can also occur to homosexuals and not only races. Lastly, Dr. Lester, an English professor, said “You can say what you want but is it the right thing to say?” This will stick with me and will make me think twice what I say or wear.

 Overall, I think the experience was worth it and it was a great 7 hours where I as a student got to witness college students’ and professors’ thoughts and got to learn how big this topic of cultural appropriation is. It has opened my mind completely, and I will now always be aware if what I’m doing is the right thing because cultural appropriation can really affect the mood of another person and in reality, it’s not okay to steal something that’s not yours because you can’t change the meaning of something and being okay with it you need to respect who they are and how they live as people. The best thing though is that we got to see a variety of perspectives because the speakers all came from different cultural backgrounds and putting it all together made sense on how no matter who it is, every culture can get affected. It was a great takeaway, and I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to know about this program because I did learn a lot and got to get an extra feeling on how campus life as a student is at ASU University.

ASU Preparatory High School Student                               

Our first keynote speaker was Kat Lazo. She set out to answer the question, “Is my costume racist?” She said that the answer is most likely “yes”. Kat started her presentation by showing some pictures of some racist costumes she has worn. Then she proceeded to show more racist costumes that are being sold online. She said those costumes are really insensitive because we rip the culture away from other people and make fun of it. We only wear it for one day out of the year, but that is their entire life.

Our second keynote speaker was David A. Romero. He talked a lot about cultural appropriation in food. He talked about how American companies like Taco Bell go into other countries and steal the food that they have spent many years perfecting and then they change it. They then call it authentic.

Melvin Raymond (DJ DN3) talked about music. He talked about how it is much easier for a white person to become famous. It is called white privilege. He gave many examples of music that was created by a black person but a white person is given credit, like with Jazz and Rock n Roll.

Overall, I really enjoyed this event. All of the facilitators really kept the discussions going. They kept asking questions that made us think and made the discussion get a little more complex. All of the presentations really enlightened me. I feel more aware about the things I do, especially what type of costume I wear on Halloween. One thing that changed the way I think was a comment that Dr. Neal Lester made. We were talking about the N word. He said that changing the spelling doesn’t change the deep meaning behind it. Another thing that changed the way I think was a response that Dr. Neal Lester gave to a woman. The woman said she had a “right to be an asshole” and do whatever she wanted. Dr. Neal Lester agreed but also added, “but is it the right thing to do?” That really blew me away because I never thought about it like that. Overall, I really loved this event, and I would definitely attend another one.

ASU Preparatory High School Student

In today’s time, there are many ways we humans are disrespectful to other cultures without even intending to. The cultural appropriation event opened my eyes to a lot of things I was unaware of. The three main topics were Halloween costumes, pop culture, and religion.

The Halloween costume issues was discussed by Kat Lazo. She talked about how we use other cultures’ attributes in a disrespectful way. One example is the way we try to make other cultures funny, for example, the Asian man glasses that have the squinty eyes on them. To us it may be funny, but to that culture it could be hurtful and very disrespectful.

The second topic brought up was about the music world. This speaker brought up the fact that although an African American man made rock and roll, Elvis Presley (white man) was called the king of rock and roll. Elvis was given more popularity for something he was not even fully responsible for creating.

The last topic was an interesting one. There were a couple moments that it was uncomfortable to be in the room because the audience members were arguing amongst themselves. The main issue was the fact that there was a Muslim man in the audience and people were judging a snapback that had the star representing Muslims. Just because he was white, no one assumed that he could possibly be Muslim. One lady made it a big deal that his hat was not made in Israel. This certain topic taught me nothing because it was pointless arguing.

In conclusion, people just need to be more considerate of their actions. Think before you do. Most importantly, you have the right to say whatever you want but is it the right thing to say?