By Abby Wargo
Last week, Norman James Theatre was filled with the sound of poetry and music.
On Wednesday, April 11, David Romero, a spoken word artist, poet, and activist from California, came to Washington College to host a cultural appropriation workshop. The workshop, sponsored by the Black Student Union, discussed identifying cultural appropriation, the difference between appropriation and appreciation, and how to prevent cultural appropriation.
Romero began by showing pictures of Native American headdresses and discussed how they were an integral part of the Plains Indians’ way of life. He then switched the slide to show a similar headdress worn by a white man at a music festival.
“This is cultural appropriation—when elements are used outside of their cultural context,” he said.
Romero introduced the idea of cultural appropriation as “eating the other,” based off an essay by bell hooks. The essay equates appropriating another ethnic group’s culture with cannibalism and highlights how the homogeneity of the American melting pot leads privileged people to seek “ethnic spice.”
“It’s what happens in the aftermath of violence,” Romero said.
Cultural appropriation, according to Romero, can apply to food, clothing, music, art, language, and rituals. People can appropriate from other cultures for a sense of release, to mock, to laugh, or for sex appeal.
Even if something does not have malicious intent, things like costumes based off other cultures can quickly devolve into something more offensive than lighthearted.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘What is the purpose of this costume?'” he said.
Romero interspersed the discussion with two original slam poems, “Watch the Throne” and “That’s a Wrap/ Ode to the Burrito.” The first discussed white musicians appropriating ideas from black musicians and receiving all of the credit, while the second addressed the burrito’s gentrification.
After he performed his poems, he split the audience into groups and handed out stacks of magazines. He asked the groups to choose an image that represented either cultural appropriation, appreciation, or assimilation, and answer questions on what the images depict and how they are being used.