Chai Time and cultural appropriation

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AsACC hosts students of UConn to Chai Time Wednesday evening. Samosa and chai tea were provided with topic of the day about cultural appropriation. Photos by Eric Yang / The Daily Campus.

As students dress up for the various Halloween parties and activities on campus, they may be completely oblivious to the fact that the persona they’re assuming for the night is cultural appropriation and may offend those around them. Bangladeshi Students Association (BSA) and Delta Epsilon Psi held Chai Time Wednesday in the Asian American Cultural Center to teach students about cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes and sip some truly delicious chai tea. 

Daily Campus writer Armana Islam, representing BSA, and Nicholas Martin, representing Delta Epsilon Psi, led the discussion. Martin defined cultural appropriation as “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture.” He explained cultural and religious appropriation are significantly different, even though they may overlap. 

Islam said religion involves the worship of a supernatural power, such as God or gods, while culture is the accumulation of human works, achievement and social institutions of a particular nation or group. Martin asked students which they believe is worse: Cultural or religious appropriation. One student argued this question is subjective, while another argued culture is in flux and religion is fairly unchanging, and so the appropriation of religion, with its strong history and ancient concepts, is the worst of the two. Islam brought up the point that one religion often spans many different cultures, and so one instance of appropriation could cover both areas. 

Martin asked whether people thought he was appropriating Christianity by displaying the Christian trait of self-sacrifice, despite his agnosticism. Everyone agreed taking a trait of a religion as your own isn’t appropriation since it has no ill-intent and isn’t mocking the religion tied to that trait. Islam said this reflects back to the idea of cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation—appropriation being negative and stemming from a lack of education or awareness about the misrepresented culture, and appreciation stemming from a deep respect and knowledge of another culture. 

“I found it interesting to see the differences between cultural assimilation and appropriation, and see how they play a role in culture these days,” Jansher Aujla, a first-semester biology major, said.  

Islam asked why people of the culture being appreciated are almost never used in instances of appreciation, such as in cases of high fashion like Shudu Gram, who was a CGI black Instagram model. One student explained that it was possibly easier to work with a CGI woman, since there would be no one to pay and no need for doing her hair and makeup. But, at the same time, Gram is both digital and the creation of a white man who has no understanding of what it means to be a black woman. 

In the recent case of Gucci’s “Indy Full Turban,” students could clearly see it was appropriation, and not just because of the white model showcasing it on the runway. The turban, pre-tied and nearly $800, completely goes against the history and meaning turbans hold for Sikhs. In Sikh culture, the turban was once a crown worn only by the ruling class; by making them an everyday clothing item, Sikhs were able to take back equality and freedom for all, and thus are meant to be affordable to all. Furthermore, the tying of the turban is a painstaking process where it must be wrapped fold by fold over their long, uncut hair, which is a sign of the Sikh faith. 

One student explained that white people are not the only ones who appropriate other cultures: People of color can just as easily appropriate. Martin asked whether this would apply to minority cultures appropriating the majority culture of the area, which many students felt conflicted about. Martin showed this was possible through an example of how a person dressed in a kimono and squinting their eyes in Japan is an appropriation of Japanese culture, despite it being the dominant culture of Japan. 

“I think [I learned we need] just a general understanding that we’re all trying to learn about different cultures and, really, it’s important that we do try to do that, we are respectful and honor their traditions and not take them as our own without understanding them properly,” Kulnoor Saini, a third-semester finance and political science double major, said. 

Martin concluded the lecture by saying the real difference between appropriation and appreciation is the amount of effort you put into learning about and respecting the culture at hand. 


Rebecca Maher is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rebecca.l.maher@uconn.edu.

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