MY CULTURE IS NOT A COSTUME POSTER SERIES
My senior year, we are required to take a course called Global Ethics. It was quite an enjoyable course and there was a lot of room for us as students, to pick a topic that we would like to educate others on, and we were able to do so. For example, for one class period, another student and I decided to choose racism as our topic and lead discussions and class activities related to educating about racism. Racism is something that I feel very strongly about; microaggressions, cultural appropriation, xenophobia, and the double standards it perpetuates.
We were assigned a project for the end of the semester and it was to be about any ethical dilemma of our choice and we could do anything that we wanted for it. I decided upon one aspect of racism: cultural appropriation and then I knew I wanted to create a poster series related to cultural appropriation. We were required to research and have a written component as well. I’m including my sources and my written component before and after creating the posters for clarity and context.
I think this project will help me engage with the dilemma of cultural appropriation by educating people. I already know a lot about cultural appropriation and have strong opinions about it. There’s no extra information that I need to know about it, but I want to help other people understand what cultural appropriation is. And why it’s offensive and things aren’t “just clothes” or “just a hairstyle”. Often, I hear people complain about people being overly sensitive now and that “everything is cultural appropriation now”, which isn’t true. I want people to understand why it’s a problem and it’s not just because they “took something from someone else”.
It goes deeper than that and I want to start a conversation with people about it. People are not going to read long-winded articles about it online, so that’s why I feel like a mini poster series will help a lot. People are very visual and respond well to something that is visually appealing. Visual communication can be extremely impactful with and without words. I want to take advantage of the skills I have as an artist, a graphic designer, and someone who is passionate about civil rights and do something about it. I am not one to protest or join riots or whatever, I do my part by bringing it up in discussion and reading about things and educating/correcting other people. And sometimes that can be very uncomfortable and maybe posters is the way to go to do that without having to confront someone or explain to someone what it is.
I want to research the facts, the information that I can put on the posters that is short and succinct but powerful, really getting my point across. Obviously the phrase of “my culture is not a costume” comes up again and again and I think people still don’t really understand what that means or how it’s a problem. I want to provide the facts about it such as any information I can get about how non-blacks can get away with (and even be praised for) black hairstyles while black people are judged and criticized for the same hairstyle. It’s not just an issue of diversity either.
I don’t know if I exactly got what I wanted out of the project. It was hard for me to find the exact numbers and statistics that I was looking for to put it on the actual posters. Instead, I just left the phrase “My culture is not a costume” to speak for itself on the posters. Something I found when I was trying to find pictures to use was that there is not nearly enough Native American representation. Every time that I typed it into Pinterest or Google, Halloween costumes or culturally appropriated photos came up. There were maybe like 5-6 actual photos of traditional Native American costumes when I looked it up which I found to be pretty dismal and disappointing. I think it did open me up to different opinions on the matters and how different people have reacted when they were called out for cultural appropriation.
Recently just at Coachella, a blogger posted a photo of herself in a “Native American headdress” and many people called her out on it. Instead of defending herself or denying it, she owned up to her mistake and formally apologized. I thought that was one of the best responses I have seen because a lot of people will not comment at all or say something about how POC wear “white hairstyles” and etc. This wasn’t necessarily something that I wanted to learn more about, but use it as a tool to educate others. I want to be able to post these things on Facebook or Instagram and start up some conversations about it. It doesn’t say much, which I wanted because I want the words to be said in a conversation.
It was really interesting to read the article about cultural appropriation in the fashion industry. And some websites were funny because it was super cut and dry definition of it and basically just said not to do it. I always found it hard to explain to people what the difference was between exchanging cultures and appropriating cultures. And POC of color are guilty of this too, no one is safe. “So what makes cultural exchange different from cultural appropriation? As with most points of cultural contention, the difference is power. In particular, the power of the privileged to borrow and normalize a cultural element of another group, while the appropriated group is often demonized and excluded because of that very cultural element.” (Biakolo). I think I was successful with the intentions of my project in that its purpose is to be distributed online."
Avins, Jenni. "The Dos and Don'ts of Cultural Appropriation." Blog post. The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 20 Oct. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.
Biakolo / AlterNet, Kovie. "How to Explain Cultural Appropriation to Anyone Who Just Doesn't Get It." Alternet. Alternet, 25 Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.
Clarence. "'Cultural Appropriation'? Try Cultural Sharing." Chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune, 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.
Johnson, About Maisha Z. "What's Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm." Everyday Feminism. Everyday Feminism, 03 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.