EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Utah admin calls cultural appropriation 'the baby of racism and capitalism'

A University of Utah administrator called cultural appropriation “the baby of racism and capitalism” at an event hosted by the student government.

UU’s Graduate School Diversity Office Assistant Director Kehaulani Folau made the remark at an event hosted by the school’s student government, Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU). ASUU hosted its third annual My Culture is Not Your Costume event in October.

“I think something that needs to be highlighted is: cultural appropriation is the baby of racism and capitalism,” Folau, who considers herself part of the Pacific Island culture, said. “I am one of those people who don’t think that [cultural appropriation] is appropriate to even do.”

The ASUU also hosted Puneet Singh, the director of the ASUU’s diversity board, who considers himself part of the South Asian culture (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, etc.) and related cultural appropriation to historical racism.

“Such a big defining part of Indian history is white supremacy,” Singh said, addressing British colonization of his country. “[People] can just wear [my culture] and just wear it and they don’t have to wear my pain. They don’t have to wear the genocide their people went through.”

Singh told UU student Patrick Kapps to stop speaking after Singh asked if Kapps had any comments and the student disputed one of his arguments. 

“As an audience member, I was listening to the one of the hosts speak about his experiences as an Indian-American,” Kapps told Campus Reform. “This speaker quickly diverted into a tirade concerning colonialism...he asserted that companies like Monsanto are currently acting as an oppressive power in India. He even went so far as to accuse the Monsanto employees as poisoning water wells. The speaker did not appreciate my gesture, as he began to verbally lash out at me and challenge me.”

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In the middle of the presentation, the ASUU members asked students to walk around the room and write their thoughts on visual examples of cultural appropriation, including non-Mexican women dressed up in sombreros and ponchos and non-Native Americans in headdresses. 

Some of these thoughts included “I am disgusted and horrified” and “this frightens me. I have a green card and this is just hurtful.”

The ASUU also presented how to appreciate cultures instead of appropriating them, telling the audience “1. Do not reduce a culture to a fashion statement, 2. Never use sacred artifacts or symbols of other cultures to accessorize, 3. Understand that by appropriating a culture, you are not promoting diversity, 4. Engage with a culture - don’t steal it, and 5. Find other ways to appreciate a culture,” points extracted from Affinity Magazine.

Last month, the Washington State University warned against the cultural appropriation of the University of Utah’s team, the Utes, a Native American tribe, before a game.

[RELATED: WSU wants to ‘steer clear’ of homecoming opponent’s mascot]

“Cultural appropriation is unfortunately somewhat vaguely defined in the public sphere, but I think the core idea rests on two central premises: 1. The culture/ideas are being appropriated for the purpose of being disparaged. 2. The culture/ideas are being claimed as original by a group that was not the originator,” University of Utah student Bryce Dixon told Campus Reform

He explained that none of the above criteria are fulfilled and that usage of the name by UU was approved and encouraged by the Ute Indian Tribe.  

“The discussions that we have at events like My Culture Is Not Your Costume can be challenging and nuanced conversations - but really, they come down to promoting respect,” ASUU student body president Connor Morgan told Campus Reform. “Around Halloween (but also throughout the entire year), it’s important to remember that actions have consequences, and sometimes those actions can be deeply offensive.”

“Our hope is that events like My Culture Is Not Your Costume can serve as helpful reminders to students to strive to be mindful of their peers and to celebrate Halloween in a way that is respectful of others!” he said.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @francesanne123