On a cool and drizzling Wednesday afternoon at 12:20, a couple of students gathered on Chapin Deck by the Campus Center to participate in a special Wednesday Weekly Vigil. This Vigil centered on the issue of cultural appreciation verses cultural appropriation with costumes, as Halloween was coming up that weekend. Hot cider was served while students lit small candles to commemorate the vigil and read a statement Senior Interfaith Fellow Matilda Cantwell created on behalf of The Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.
The statement read as follows:
We, the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life Advisory Board for Justice, Identity, and Social Change; the Indigenous Student Association (ISA), and the Multi Ethnic Organization (MISC) of Smith College, endorse and encourage cultural appreciation, and condemn all forms of cultural appropriation.
We believe that there is a grave distinction between appreciation and appropriation.
We call for Cultural Appreciation: the learning about another culture with respect and courtesy. We praise taking the time to learn about, interact with, and do our best to gain understanding of a culture, or cultures, different from our own.
We condemn Cultural Appropriation: a lack of respect for the sacred history of another culture without having knowledge of its significance. We acknowledge that a long history of Colonization has placed Western Anglo culture in the dominant position with respect to other cultures. Therefore, the use of the traditions, symbols, and codes of these cultures by western Anglo communities always includes the risk of oppression.
We acknowledge that we live in a diverse world. We acknowledge that the lines between appropriation and appreciation may sometimes seem blurry at first glance, but we are committed to bringing them into focus. We do so because the dignity of our fellow humans is at stake.
As we approach the Halloween and All Saints’ Day Holidays, we acknowledge the ancient roots of these holidays and the sacred traditions they harken from. This is a time we note the waning of the light and mark the change in season. We celebrate the diversity and richness of all cultures on this day and all days going forward.
To raise awareness, a chart split between cultural appreciation and appropriation was also on display for students to write down what was considered appreciating or appropriating a culture to them. For appropriation, a number of terms and phrases were written such as “blackface,” “orientalism,” and “intellectualism of identity” which means using one’s experience to appear intelligent about a culture. For appreciation, other phrases that were written included “acknowledging any power dynamic that may involve you, as you show appreciation” and “learning about courses I am interested in.”
While working on the chart and getting cider, some of the students spotted the flyers on the table: what makes a Halloween costume offensive, the differences between culture appreciation and appropriation and a Halloween checklist to help students make sure their costumes fit guidelines that would not mock particular topics, such as religion, oppression and entire cultures. Students could also take copies of the statement if they wished. One small group of students began to talk about taking these flyers back to their house so fellow housemates were made aware. They also mentioned a tea that was recently held on this particular issue. Even if the group was small, students made sure to take flyers back to their houses to spread the word, so everyone will be aware when they go to pick out their costumes.
This Wednesday Weekly Vigil was a small, but important one not to have missed; cultural appreciation vs. cultural appropriation is a hot-button issue right now that needs more dialogue and time to understand. By understanding the differences, we can learn to respect cultures that are different from our own, while at the same time remind people that what may seem like a good idea to one, may be offensive to another. We are all people from many diverse cultures; let’s make sure to be mindful of everyone around us, and take time to appreciate, instead of appropriate.