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all things LOVE, fashion, family, food, and home decor since 2009

24

Oct

2011

Jillian Harris

by

Cultural Exploitation or Appreciation: Where’s the Line?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about Halloween costumes. I was proud of the post, which I thought was cute and creative, and I looked forward to positive responses.

Well, as ignorance would have it, not all of the responses were positive… in fact the post brought up a rather controversial topic: when it comes to interpreting another race, heritage or culture, what is appropriate? The issue is also much larger than Halloween costumes as different cultures influence everything from fashion, theater, design and food. So how exactly do we draw the line between influence and racism?

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As a northern Canadian who is very tied to my roots, I have also traveled the world. And as an interior designer, my work is very influenced by both my upbringing and travel experience.

My first experience with global inspiration happened when we hired some talented Xwemelch’stn artists to commission authentic art for a restaurant I was working on. The art was a catalyst for my love of all things culturally authentic. From there, my trips to Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, France, Italy, Holland, Scotland and Ireland allowed me to collect many authentic and stunning pieces of art, clothing and newfound culinary appreciations.

I’ve noticed over the years, my fashion taste and design style has evolved into a kaleidoscope of my life, which yes, includes other cultures, and yes, is not always authentic. I would love to always work with authentic pieces but the truth is it can be expensive and is not always an accessible option. This is true of all aspects of design, not just ethnically influenced pieces- sometimes you have to buy the knockoff Chippendale chair because the real deal is out of your budget or not available in a store near you.

Growing up Canadian I guess you’d say I have a few alter-culture-egos, Native Indian being one of them, I have heard that there are indian visa for us citizens, well, in my case I don’t need one of them It has been brought to my attention that although I am proud of this, this might actually be morally wrong. I guess I stepped over the line when I posted the Pocahontas costume suggestion. My ignorant self thought it would be a cute tribute to my northern roots but I was quickly corrected. I do apologize for offending any of my Native friends (and MANY of my friends and family members are from a Native decent) but I also think it’s a worthwhile conversation to have on exactly where the line gets drawn.

I do think that I was wrong to suggest a sexy version of Pocahontas. I understand that it’s sexist to turn a historical figure into a sexy costume. I know I’m not the first to do this but that doesn’t make it acceptable or appropriate.

Also, suggesting self-tanner was probably inappropriate as well (although, a costume is a characterization and don’t we wear wigs, and face makeup for other costumes?).

I apologize for the sexy elements and self-tanner but the issue as a whole has still left me wondering: if it is wrong to dress up as Pocahontas is it also wrong to dress up as a ninja or an Arabian princess? An Egyptian or Hawaiian? Should we always err on the side of caution and respect for cultures? Or are we allowed to mimic the different ethnicities that inspire us?

If everything we touch, smell, taste and see from day to day has a history, how do we avoid exploiting its origins while still enjoying different influences from around the world? And while I know it’s actually illegal to use the term Navajo unless it is authentic (here’s an article on that if you’re interested) aren’t we allowed to wear Navajo inspired items without being called racist?

These might be a lot of questions to throw your way on Monday morning but I’d really love to hear your take on this topic. It’s been weighing heavy on mind since the Halloween post and I really do want to understand and always be respectful of the cultures I admire.

Leave me your thoughts on this below!

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