Courtesy of Shivani Parikh '19

November 13, 2016

Student Panelists Stress Dangers of Cultural Appropriation

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The Intergroup Dialogue Project sponsored a student-facilitated and student-led panel Saturday to discuss the thin line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation in the media and on campus.

Jaylexia Clark ’19, co-president for Black Students United, explained that cultural appropriation not only neglects to acknowledge the group of people whose culture or tradition is being imitated, but it also fails to acknowledge the privilege that goes hand in hand with this imitation.

“If you go out in a hoodie and blonde dreadlocks, you’re not going to have the fear of being shot,” she said. “There’s a sense of privilege when you do it that’s not being acknowledged, and that’s why cultural appropriation, even though people don’t think about it, is so dangerous and is just as important to us as any other form of discrimination.”

Barbara Cruz ’19, secretary of MEChA — the Chicano students organization at Cornell — said a lot of people who culturally appropriate do not show support or respect for the people they are trying to represent.

“You can see someone dressing up as a Mexican with a sombrero and it’s fun, but you never see them fighting for the rights of the people who are getting discriminated against because they’re Mexican,” she said.

Vegan Soopramanien ’19, an intern at the Asian and Asian American Center and international student from Mauritius, explained that cultural appropriation does not exist in the same way in his country as it does in the United States.

“[Mauritius] Is made up of Indians, Christians, Asians, Africans, Caribbeans, Muslims, and we all live together as one single people — we just don’t discriminate,” he said.

Soopramanien said visitors from outside of his country were sometimes guilty of appropriation.

“Some tourists come to our island from Africa or Europe, and they want to get the tattoo of the Hindu symbol just because it’s fashion or it looks cool,” he said. “It’s something that’s very sacred, and getting the tattoo of it, you should be able to respect it — when you don’t respect it, I think that’s cultural appropriation.”

As an African American woman, Clark said she sees cultural appropriation happening constantly.

“We’ve been sexualized and objectified for having big features,” she said. “These are features that have been a part of our culture.”

Clark said the issue of cultural appropriation is present in the media as well. She said it is important to hold artists accountable for appropriation, despite the popularity of their music, because many white artists are appropriating black culture without acknowledging problems in the black community.

“They can dress a certain way in a music video, but when you come back in the real world, they’re not affected in the same way,” she said. “This is not a piece of chain or jewelry that I can take off and I won’t have to worry about cops anymore.”

Soopramanien said he was not aware of cultural appropriation when viewing American music videos from Mauritius.

“I never even thought about this because in other countries, we think that America is culturally glued together as one single community,” he said. “When we come here, we see how divisive that community can sometimes be.”

One of the best ways to avoid cultural appropriation is to educate yourself on the internet, Cruz said.

“I’m half Mexican and half Puerto Rican, and I’ve had so many people ask me if my dad came here illegally, but Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens,” she said.

Cruz also stressed the importance of supporting other cultures in times of struggle.

“A lot of people were really hurt by this election,” she said. “Just to have people there to say I understand. Not to say why are you upset, but people to say I’m sorry. I don’t know that everything will be ok, but I’m here for you now.”

Clark agreed, encouraging people to “just ask” when uncertain about “how a certain action will be perceived.” However, Soopramanien clarified that it is just as important to know which questions to ask.

“I’m from the islands, and people ask ‘Do you have an airport? Do you have wifi? Do you have shops in your country?” he said. “Questions can be offensive.”

Clark urged the community to “educate those around you” and “speak up and be an ally.”

The event was created in collaboration with Black Student United at Cornell University, MEChA de Cornell, Asian and Asian American Center at Cornell University and Cornell Alpha Phi Omega.

  • Red

    This notion of cultural appropriation is total crap. No one owns a certain hairstyle or music genre. The things that disturb college students are truly disturbing.

    • blue

      did you read the article, like at all?

      • Ebby B

        This article assumptions are entirely false. I don’t think it matters, but I am the child of Ethiopian migrants. Culture is constantly evolving. An important part of a thriving culture is the inclusion of other cultures. All culture is made up of an amalgamation of different ethnic, class, and regional influences.

  • ……….

    these people have no life

  • Cat Lover

    They should have done something about all of the cat costumes during Halloween! Feline culture is being appropriated and its disgusting

  • Mackdeezy


    What about Beyoncé and her blonde, straight hair? Jimi Hendrix and Lenny Kravitz cranking out hard rock tracks? Darius Rucker in the country music scene? Black athletes playing basketball, baseball, and football? We are a melting pot that has appropriated elements from each other since the beginning of this nation. It is what makes this country great. Now we want to be offended over certain people adopting elements of another culture because they do identify with it in some way, even if it is superficial? It brings credence and promulgation to a culture that might otherwise remain underground, unknown to the rest of the world. Where would rap music be without Eminem bridging the gap between white and black America? Now there are young to middle aged whites listening to dudes like Drake and Lil’ Wayne that may have never even heard of these cats before Slim did his thing to broaden the consumer base. Think of the money it has generated for hip-hop. I’m white but I’ve always identified with blacks more than my own race. I grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood and have a very diverse, racially mixed family. Hip Hop is my music of choice, I love to eat soul food more than anything else, in the 90’s my pants hung down below my ass, I date only women of color (black, Latina, Asian, Native, etc.). I honestly do not really like white people generally speaking. Find them to be boring and somewhat insufferable. Also very smarmy and pretentious. More humility among cultural minorities for the most part, which is another reason I like minority groups better than my own race. But, my point is, if I am culturally appropriating, I do so out of love of the culture I am borrowing. I also do not see how any group in this nation has the proprietary rights on any element of culture. We are an evolving nation that has adapted culturally over time to the diverse groups that make up this vast community. How is that a negative thing? Why? Again, it goes to spread the awareness of cultural diversity and shows that people of different traditions can themselves learn to love and embrace other traditions.

    • ASHLEY

      Black people invented rock. You PIECE OF BAHAMA MAMA