'Cultural appropriation is cultural genocide,’ says Mo. school’s costume workshop

A presentation given ahead of Halloween meant to help Maryville University students navigate the appropriateness of costumes told students that cultural appropriation is "cultural genocide."

Slides from the presentation include images of a child's Moana costume and claims that nose rings count as "cultural appropriation."

As Halloween approaches, universities across the country are gearing up to combat potentially “offensive” costumes that “appropriate” the cultures of others. This year, one Missouri university is going so far as to tell students that “cultural appropriation” is “cultural genocide.”

The slideshow for the “Cultural Appropriation & Cultural Appreciation” workshop, given as part of Maryville University’s “Peer Educators” program, prompts students to consider the implications of things like wearing nose rings and children’s costumes that represent characters from cultures other than their own. 

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The presentation offers several explanations to the question “why does cultural appropriation happen?,” one reason being “capitalism,” and that “culture [is] treated as a ‘natural resource’ to extract from people of color.”

Examples of cultural appropriation given by Maryville University include nose rings and bangle style bracelets, both of which are parts of Indian wedding and marriage traditions.

One slide is simply titled “Cinco De Mayo,” and otherwise includes only an edited photo of three white people in sombreros and fake mustaches, holding margaritas. Another slide features an image of the child’s Halloween costume of a character from Disney’s Moana. The same costume was pulled from shelves in 2016 after cultural appropriation complaints from the public.

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The slide deck also includes a “Matrix of Oppression” graphic, which identifies whether various types of individuals belong to “privileged,” “border,” or “targeted” social groups. For example, “Jews, Muslims, [and] Hindus,” are “targeted” groups, while “Roman Catholic (historically)” people are “border” and “Protestants” are “privileged.”

”Calling people out for appropriating cultures can be tricky,” one slide reads, giving the example of “telling a light-skinned person they cannot have dreads, when they identify as black,” and noting that “traditions or symbols can have roots in several different cultures.”

The presentation winds down by explaining to students that “you can explore and be fascinated by a culture and not appropriate it,” and that “it becomes appropriation when you change a part of your identity to ‘match’ or ‘claim’ that culture.” Instead, Maryville suggests that individuals engage in “cultural appreciation,” which can supposedly be achieved by participating in cultural traditions so long as there is an “invitation” to participate extended “by an individual of that particular culture,” or by supporting cultural artists and musicians “by purchasing designs directly from them.” 

“Do Not Accessorize” is yet another recommendation offered to those hoping to appreciate appropriately. 

Listed “takeaways” from the presentation include the assertion that cultural appropriation causes “cultural genocide,” instructions to “get invited, not ‘too excited’’” and simply “#ACultureIsNotACostume.”

“It’s not about changing minds, it’s about starting conversations,” Maryville Office of Diversity and Inclusion program coordinator Ashley Storman said of the event in a university news release

[RELATED: SHOCK: Even liberal Bill Maher says cultural appropriation ‘was just made up’]

“We’ll take our message into any space on campus, whether it’s athletics, the library or for another student organization,” Storman added. “We want people to know that promoting diversity and inclusion is not just our job — it’s everyone’s job.”

Campus Reform reached out to Maryville for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @celinedryan