Luther College Chips

Cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation

Lauren Knuckey (‘19) and Malu Mndzebele (‘21) in the 2017 International Fashion  Show, demonstrating cultural appreciation. They are both wearing  the traditional attire of Swaziland called ‘emahiya.’

Lauren Knuckey (‘19) and Malu Mndzebele (‘21) in the 2017 International Fashion Show, demonstrating cultural appreciation. They are both wearing the traditional attire of Swaziland called ‘emahiya.’

Hasan Muhammad (‘20) | Photo Bureau

Hasan Muhammad (‘20) | Photo Bureau

Lauren Knuckey (‘19) and Malu Mndzebele (‘21) in the 2017 International Fashion Show, demonstrating cultural appreciation. They are both wearing the traditional attire of Swaziland called ‘emahiya.’

Cara Keith, Staff Writer

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The International Student and Allies Association (ISAA) hosted their annual International Fashion Show on Oct. 21. This year the theme was “Appreciate Don’t Appropriate.” Since students just celebrated Halloween, being mindful of cultural appropriation has been a topic of discussion on Luther College’s campus. This was especially apparent as students, faculty, and staff decided what costumes to don for a costume contest hosted by Dining Services on Monday, Oct. 30.

ISAA chose “Appreciate Don’t Appropriate” as the theme for the fashion show this year because the organization wanted students to appreciate different cultures from all over the world. The fashion show provided an example for Luther students on how they are able to exchange different cultural ideas without exploiting or disrespecting other cultures.

President of ISAA Zakithi Nkosi (‘19) explained how the students in the fashion show demonstrated an appreciation for different cultures rather than appropriating them.

“One of the things we did, not just for the people participating but also the audience, was to include descriptions of the attire in the programs,” Nkosi said. “We wanted to show when some of the attires are worn, what their purpose is, and that kind of thing. With the models, we made sure that the people who were giving away their attire were consenting and that the models weren’t wearing the attire in a way that’s not OK.”

Nkosi describes how there is a thin line between appreciation and appropriation. The main difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is the intent and recognition behind utilizing another culture. Cultural appropriation is when someone uses someone else’s culture without considering the people of that culture, to make money, or to simply look fashionable.

Contrastingly, cultural appreciation is when someone utilizes another culture with the intent of respecting it and wanting to learn more about it. Those who appreciate culture should also obtain the consent of someone from the culture they are utilizing to make sure they don’t unintentionally disrespect the culture in any way.

Ishimwe Christa Peilla (‘21) described the negative implications of cultural appropriation.

“The harm of cultural appropriation is cultural extinction,” Peilla said. “I understand the idea that ‘we [as people] are one’ but our differences are what makes us one. If everybody used everybody else’s culture, at some point we would have nothing. If you don’t have a culture then who are you? Imagine losing who you are or where you come from.”

While the fashion show was one instance where students had the opportunity to appreciate culture, the Halloween costume contest was a chance for students to decide whether their costume was appropriate, especially with consideration to cultures outside of their own.

When the Food Council and Dining Services put on the annual costume contest, they did not have any regulations about what costumes are deemed appropriate.

In an interview prior to the contest, Food Council President Luke Wilson (‘18) explained why the costume contest did not have strict rules in place for this event.

“Luther students are not going to have costumes that are overtly inappropriate or anything in certain circumstances,” Wilson said. “We kind of trust the Luther students and if there is a costume that is deemed to be inappropriate or deemed harmful to somebody, we are definitely going to knock them for that.”

Nkosi also stated that she hasn’t seen cultural appropriation as a huge problem on Luther’s campus. Despite this, she feels that it is important for students to educate themselves on the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.

According to Nkosi, the most important thing that Luther students can do to put an end to cultural appropriation is to point it out to each other when they see it.

“Holding people accountable is important,” said Nkosi. “So if you see your friends doing something questionable, don’t just be quiet.Or if you are offended by your own friend, just call them out.You might lose a friend but at least you’ll be educating someone.”

One way for students to learn more about cultural appropriation is to visit the Diversity Center. The staff will answer any questions about cultural appropriation and whether or not an action is deemed to be appropriation. Along with this, students can seek help from different student organizations such as ISAA and Hola Enlaces, which is a Spanish service organization on campus.

Though Halloween is over, ISAA still encourages Luther students to be mindful about their future costumes and to always be cognizant about cultural appropriation.

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