Courageous Connections: a first-person account

By: Trever McKenzie ~Copy Editor~

You don’t talk about cultural appropriation at the dinner table. You don’t talk about it in line at Coffee Emporium. You don’t talk about it in your biology study group. Where do you talk about it, then? At the Center for Diversity and Inclusion’s (CDI) Courageous Conversations events.

Last year, I attended one of the first Courageous Conversations events, the first of many to come. The purpose of the event was to discuss topics that we were too afraid to talk about in public. The discussion concerned cultural appropriation, which was very timely, as the event occurred before Halloween last year. This year’s goal was specifically to define what cultural appropriation is, how it affects marginalized communities, how the phenomena manifests itself and how individuals can fight against it. In my opinion, it did this very well.

We started by defining cultural appropriation. Immediately, my hand flew up with an answer in mind.

“Cultural appropriation is when you take elements from a culture and use them out of their cultural context,” I volunteered.

There was some agreement, but others also offered different definitions. My favorite was “stealing elements of a culture to use for your own enjoyment.” I felt that it truly captured what cultural appropriation is: the theft of a culture.

We then went on to talk about its effects on communities. Most notably, we discussed was how it trivializes the elements of a culture used for sacred and religious traditions and rituals. The idea of Native American headdresses and costumes came up almost immediately, and the question of if misusing these outfits was sacrilegious was discussed extensively.

We also addressed a recent incident in which four elementary students dressed up as a slave owner and slaves — one white boy as the slave owner and three black boys as the slaves — which led to a discussion about how children and cultural appropriation intersect and whose responsibility its is to prevent children from culturally appropriating.

A memorable point for me was when I saw a photo of Katy Perry, my favorite artist, on the wall behind the unspoken leaders of the discussion. It was a still shot of her from her “Dark Horse” music video, in which she was decked out in stereotypical Egyptian clothes and sporting a grill. I posed a question about the possibility of appropriating an ancient culture that has been dead for a long time, which led to yet another engaging discussion.

The event approached the phenomenon of cultural appropriation from several angles, many of which I hadn’t considered before. Courageous Conversations is a forum that encourages respectful, organized and in-depth conversation about serious and sometimes controversial topics that you don’t get from a Facebook comment section or your uncle’s political Thanksgiving rants.

A platform to address controversial social topics in a respectful way is extremely important these days, and I have much pride in knowing that Xavier takes the extra step to provide this forum for students to discuss this issue and other important ones like it.