Updated: Nov 21, 2019
By Narciso Arguelles
Gary Mason - Black Balloon
I am sitting in a meeting discussing an art exhibit focusing on racial and cultural diversity. In recent years in Oklahoma, exhibitions of this nature have become more common. Something curious happened in the last two exhibitions I helped put together.
One exhibition had a theme of artists of color. And the second one was about Day of the Dead and was open to Latino artists. During the open call, I fielded several questions from people who did not meet the criteria for entry. One well-meaning person asked is they could enter the Artists of Color exhibit, if they used the art element of “color” in their artwork. What followed was an uncomfortable discussion about who “People of Color“ are.
The second exhibition was about the Day of the Dead, and the call stated that the exhibit was open to Latino artists. The questions I received were something like, “Even though I am not Latino, can I still apply?” After all that, we still received art work from non-Latino’s. In the call for art, we asked for the applicants to attest to their Latino heritage. In that section, the applicant wrote how much they admired the “Latino” culture.
Is there a name for this phenomenon? Where Anglo-Americans feel compelled to participate in events that are meant to celebrate another culture. The worst version of this maybe called cultural trespassing or cultural appropriating. In Oklahoma, a minor celebrity made news for wearing a Native American headdress. In an interview, she states, “I think Native American culture is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
She explains what happened after she posted it on social media, “It rapidly got a lot of ‘likes’, but it also got a lot of #culturalappropriation tags — I didn’t even know what that meant and had to look it up.” And, “I don’t believe multi-culturalism should be feared because I am a person of this earth, not the culture I was raised in.”1
All these statements, I have heard before from well-meaning people. I encourage our friends and allies to continue to support events that celebrate cultural diversity, but that may mean to be more aware of what is appropriate as far as cultural boundaries.