Monday, November 28, 2016
"Cultural appropriation" in Canada
A group of students at Queen’s University is the target of vitriolic attacks for attending an off-campus costume party at which the theme was “Countries of the World.” Among other things, the mostly white participants dressed up as Buddhist monks, Middle Eastern sheiks, Viet Cong fighters and Rastafarians.
Toronto comedian Celeste Yim came across pictures from the event and was immediately incensed, branding the behaviour of the students “shockingly racist” “offensive” and “tasteless.” Things went crazy from there. Predictably, the Queen’s administration quickly condemned the party, and said it was investigating.
To which I ask: Investigating what?
When did going to a costume party become a racist activity? I’ve attended many in my life, certainly lots in my twenties, where people of varied ethnic backgrounds (and sometimes not) dressed up in all sorts of crazy ways, depicting people of all racial makeups. A friend who is black once donned Lederhosen for an Oktoberfest bash. Today that would be cultural theft, I suppose.
Should I have felt wronged when a neighbour of Chinese descent showed up for a Halloween party dressed as a “Canadian hoser,” replete with red plaid over-shirt, tuque, and a couple of missing front teeth? I doubt there was a soul in the house thinking, “Way to perpetuate a negative stereotype.”
I understand that lines can be crossed; jokes, sometimes in the form of costumes, fall flat or are just plain offensive. At the same time, I think we need to be extremely careful about making a distinct connection between what we witnessed at Queen’s and overt racism.