No one has the right answer about whether the members of Phi Delta Gamma fraternity are guilty of engaging in alleged cultural appropriation during one of their philanthropies.
In a video that surfaced on Twitter, members of Fiji wore grass skirts and serenaded sororities in their house as part of a charity fundraiser. Following the release of this video, many members of the Pacific Islander community criticized the fraternity for being insensitive and appropriating their cultures.
To clarify, cultural appropriation is when a dominant culture adopts elements of a minority culture in an unequal manner, according to an article from The Guardian. Many characterize this practice as a remnant of colonialism and say it’s harmful because of common power imbalances between majority and minority cultures.
An article published in The Daily Evergreen on Sept. 19 covering the Fiji incident received over 300 comments on Facebook. People debated and attacked each other for their views on the fraternity’s actions.
Dialogue is important for resolving issues like this, but in the case of Fiji, no one is entirely right.
Many commenters who defended Fiji said the Pacific Islander community should get over it and claimed they couldn’t nderstand why a person could be so upset over something as harmless as boys in grass skirts.
What these people fail to recognize is that no one person or group can be the model for how everyone else should react. Making the claim that if something doesn’t offend one person, it shouldn’t offend other people is ignorant, self-centered and foolish.
Imagine you have a family saying you use all the time. It goes back generations and represents the values of your ancestors, values you seek to emulate. Now imagine that a richer, more powerful family moves in next door, hears the phrase and starts using it all the time, but they misquote it.
At a bare minimum, most people would be offended their traditions were co-opted by someone else. But the problem goes deeper than that because it misrepresents them.
Grass skirts are more than just fashion for the Asian Pacific Islander community. As a white person, I may not have the right to comment on what that meaning is, but neither do others who don’t share the same Polynesian heritage.
However, the flip side of this argument, and why no one necessarily has the right answer, is that some critics accused Fiji of being racist.
As unforgiving as it might sound, cultural appropriation is not illegal. There is no legal definition of hate speech or cultural appropriation. This makes it difficult to argue against because many critics of the concept often equate legality with morality.
Leading with emotional arguments or unfounded accusations of racism does nothing to convince the opposition you are correct, especially when that audience has little understanding of why appropriation is offensive.
One good thing to come out of the comment section was members of multicultural student groups inviting people to the fourth floor of the CUB to meet with them. In-person meetings like this take some of the energy out of the debate and allow people to discuss rather than attack each other.
After looking through the comments, it seemed like most people focused on what Fiji should do now as opposed to what they could or should have done instead of the grass skirts.
If they wanted to do a theme such as this, they should have reached out the cultural organizations within the community. They could have either asked actual Asian-Pacific Islanders what they thought of the idea or invited members of that community to help them prepare a performance that wasn’t offensive.
The issue of cultural appropriation is too complex for people to find a correct answer without having quality discussions outside of social media and being respectful to one another.
It takes groups who disagree with one another to solve issues like this and a real solution requires both sides to compromise.