Cultural Exchange

 A banner with several images and text boxes. The title reads "Team Kenan: Cultural Exchange, Here's what Duke students had to say about cultural exchange. Below is an image of a globe, with text that reads "America Effect: For many international students, cultural appropriation is a new concept. The melting pot of America makes us more prone to issues of cultural appropriation. Below is an image of a hand with a spiral. The text next to it reads "What is cultural appropriation? Adopting the fashion, iconography, trends, or styles from an often marginalized culture." To the right and up is the instagram icon. The text next to it reads "Social Media: social platforms have given us the power to exploit cultures without even realizing. It's important to be mindful of how your words and actions online can be interpreted." Below is an image of a bat, with the text "Halloween: when thinking about your costume for the 31st, be sensitive to religious/ethnic wear and the social connotation of your clothing. Above all, when in doubt, GOOGLE."

This week Team Kenan couched on the ethics of cultural exchange and cultural appropriation. Our core question was what ethical parameters do people use as guidelines to determine whether a cultural exchange is respectful or a form of appropriation?

Power dynamics came up quite often in our discussions as a primary determinant of appropriation. Namely, many individuals listed examples of privileged subcultures dressing in ways that marginalized subcultures dress to depict what they deemed cultural appropriation. These examples brought about two additional questions: 1. Since privilege and marginalization is dependent on time and place, does cultural appropriation vary across different places and cultures? And 2. If a marginalized subculture were to dress in a way similar to how the privileged subculture dresses would that also be cultural appropriation?

To the first question, most people responded with an astounding “yes,” and then qualified their answer with “and that is why cultural appropriation is so hard to define and is inherently subjective.” One person even said “what is cultural appropriation to one person can be seen as respectful cultural exchange to another.” The implications of this are difficult to manage. Given that cultural appropriation is highly subjective, how can we operate in a multicultural campus in a way that doesn’t offend those around us, noting that the same action can be interpreted in such drastically different ways? Of course, given that Halloween is coming up, one way we could do this is by picking a neutral costume (we all intend on doing so!). But, after Halloween, this point remains a major question on our minds!

As for the second question, Team Kenan received multiple answers explaining that because “cultural appropriation” is linked to power imbalances among different subcultures, it is impossible for a marginalized subculture to appropriate a privileged subculture. That said, according to those we spoke to, it is still possible for marginalized subcultures to engage in problematic actions; however, those actions would need to be called something different.