Cultural boundaries

Bret Belden

In the Student Senate update on A1, one can read that the Student Senate passed a resolution condemning the stereotypes expressed by a guest speaker at last Wednesday’s “grand chapter,” a mandatory meeting for all members of UNH’s fraternity and sorority life. After this talk, concerned members of the community flooded into the newsroom to talk about the offensive, inappropriate and inaccurate definitions of cultural appropriation and appreciation the speaker presented. In the recent years the terms “cultural appropriation,” “cultural appreciation” and “cultural adoption” have been circling the media and causing a serious conversation on what boundaries need to be set when exposed to race and cultures that are not native to one’s own.

Practicing a culture is cultural appreciation. Adapting a culture to your own is cultural adaptation, taking credit for that culture and in the process denying the people who created it or ignoring them and the meaning of elements in said culture is cultural appropriation.

That being said, the lines between cultural appropriation, adaptation and appreciation are blurred, and knowing when a line is crossed can be difficult. As we dive into a world filled with diversity, our interests grow for a deeper understanding and curiosity for participating in unfamiliar cultural celebrations, we must remember to respect the traditional values of the communities we wish to learn from and admire.

In recent pop culture news, there have been questions and outrage surrounding the cultural appropriation of celebrities.

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, model Karlie Kloss took to twitter apologizing for her photo shoot in Vogue magazine where she was styled as a Japanese geisha. This photo spread appeared in the “diversity” issue, sparking an immediate outrage and Vogue removed the photographs from their website. Kloss tweeted, “These images appropriate a culture that is not my own and I am truly sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive. My goal is, and always will be, to empower and inspire women. I will ensure my future shoots and projects reflect that mission.”

This is the second time Kloss has been accused of cultural appropriation, the first following the 2016 Victoria Secret Fashion Show after she wore a full Native American feather headdress, suede vest, skirt and turquoise jewelry. In the Native American culture, feathers receive utmost respect, and the headdress regalia is one of the most powerful symbols of Native identity and is considered sacred. This is one reason why it is inappropriate to refer to any regalia as a “costume.”

Even more recently, Vogue presented another controversial shoot surrounding cultural appropriation when model Gigi Hadid posed as the cover model for the first ever issue of Vogue Arabia in a hajab.

Although Hadid is part Palestinian, many were unhappy with the shoot claiming she was not Muslim, therefore making her photo shoot attire not justified. At this point, we need to focus on coexisting in a way that is creatively open to participating, celebrating and learning about different cultures as an outsider while being culturally sensitive, and there are a few base rules that should be seen as a shared common knowledge.

Blackface is never okay. If this isn’t painfully obvious, no one should dress as an ethnic stereotype, or any offensive idea of it, ever. This should never be a costume or the butt of a joke. Don’t adapt sacred artifacts or accessories into a costume or outfit. As mentioned earlier, an example of this is the popular feather headdress in a “native american” costume, which is seen as highly offensive. Something for us Wildcats to take into serious thought is that a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo is a very similar concept. Engage with other cultures on more than an aesthetic level. When a costume or outfit is based on race, ethnicity or culture, humans are being exposed for the sake of making the wearer feel powerful or “sexy,” and it is not okay.

As students at UNH, we are very fortunate to have different culturally based student organizations that hold many events throughout every academic year. Attending these events can help us learn, appreciate and understand the cultures of our fellow classmates.

Although we have only skimmed the surface of this topic and issues based around culture, they are tricky, undoubtedly sensitive and difficult to navigate. If everyone focuses on becoming aware and mindful of the lines that can be crossed, we will be looking in the direction of progression.