NAACP Presents Culture Not Costume

Najah James preparing for the discussion.
Najah James preparing for the discussion.

The campus’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter hosted an event on cultural appropriation on Tuesday, Oct. 24. The event was held in the Lane University Center, Room 111.

Members of the group and attendees gave their opinions on the subject. Malasia Townes (Vice President) and Najah James (Public Relations Chair) used a power point to facilitate the discussion.

“So, who is dressing up for Halloween this year?,” James asked. One student said that she would dress up as a dinosaur. Najah started the presentation by letting the audience know where some offensive costumes originated. “For starters, everybody basically has this idea of what cultural appropriation is. We hear it all the time, especially around this time,” James stated. James thinks people who culturally appropriate try to pass it off for cultural appreciation. She is unaware if these people are appreciating the cultures or exploiting them for personal gain.

A student who is half Lumbee Native American shared her experience with Halloween and racist Native American costumes. “It’s just like seeing sexualized costumes when Native women have a really high percentage of sexual assault and violence,” the student explained. She told the room about how Native women are unprotected by laws that punish rapists. “People can put on this really sexy costume and say that they appreciate it, but do you appreciate that there are reservations without power, equal laws, and people are treated like trash?,” she said. She recalls watching people at her school mimic Native war cries in costumes; the situation was hard for her to endure.

“If you are going to dress up, you can’t dress up as a culture. You can’t do that,” James stated.

The discussion moved from Halloween to more widespread cultural appropriation. James used the Marc Jacob mini bun situation as an example of mainstream media profiting off a culture. “They are always like, ‘This is new! Oh no no, nobody wore grills before Katy Perry. Oh no no, nobody wore braids before Kim Kardashian!,'” James exclaimed. She speaks on how things culturally significant to the black community are frowned upon until a famous white person does it.

“It’s fascinating to me how everyone else can be black, everyone else can be Mexican, everyone else can be Chinese, except Black, Mexican, and Chinese people,” she said. She then posed the question of whether or not celebrities had the right to cultural appropriate. One student believed it is morally incorrect, yet she thinks they have the freedom to do it.

Townes then questioned the crowd on their feelings if their favorite celebrity exploited someone else’s culture. A student thought that if the celebrity in question is fascinated and immerses themselves in the culture it is acceptable. She referenced a celebrity who is into anime and Japanese culture. “He’s well respected in that community as well; that’s something to consider,” the student explained.

James and Townes ended the discussion by giving three forms of advice on the topic: If you think it’s racist, it most likely it is; blackface is not okay; and when in doubt, look up some cosplayers to dress as.

 

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