Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cultural Insensitivity

The world has been placed on notice. That is, the part of the world that thinks it cares about offending minorities or other cultures or religious beliefs or habits or pretensions or actually just about anything that might present as giving offence. Taking care with political correctness, thinking twice and then looking over your shoulder and thinking again -- hard -- is the order of the day.

Some might think of a scheme to have fun, lighten the atmosphere, use a symbol of some type to raise funds for charity; what have you; now the trend is to wait for the criticisms to fall as they may.
"As far as this particular image is concerned, I doubt that many Kanaka Maoli [native Hawaiian] voices would be raised in protest for a bunch of students in a very cold place who are trying to imagine being in a warmer place."
"Native people here have long since lost control of that icon, of people surfing, the diamond head in the background, the big blue wave. That has become such an appropriated, and huge, marketing tool for corporate tourism that when it's being appropriated, it's actually being appropriated from them and not from us."
Jonathan Kay Kamaka-wiwoole Osorio, Professor Hawaiian studies, University of Hawaii
A University of Saskatchewan student group's “Hawaiian Night” fundraiser was rebranded as “Tropical Night” after complaints over the original poster (L).
Handout    A University of Saskatchewan student group's “Hawaiian Night” fundraiser was rebranded as “Tropical Night” after complaints over the original poster (L).
"I can understand there is cultural sensitivities we may not have been aware of, but in my opinion, we changed the event very proactively on our own terms.
"We removed the original image of the female surfing as it was seen to be sexualizing indigenous women, and we changed the image to one of a small island with palm trees and sun in the background."
Dylon Pollon, vice-president, Arts and Sciences' Student Union (ASSU), University of Saskatchewan

Innocently enough, in a spirit of fun, a student group with the arts and sciences department of University of Saskatchewan had a brain-wave; in the midst of a cold, snowy winter lighten the atmosphere and the mood by planning for a Hawaiian-themed fundraiser. Then, in the spirit of never knowing when and where lightning may strike, accusations of racism thwacked the organizers upside the head. Bringing them quickly to their senses - run for cover!

A group on campus representing the movement Idle No More (for those with short memories, Idle No More is a proactive/reactive/activist, no-nonsense, no sense of humour, First Nations movement to liberate Canada's indigenous peoples from the historical and current yoke of colonialist racism. The poster depicting a woman surfing in a bikini with a pink lei thrown over her shoulders, looking quite delectable and enjoying her experience, elicited outrage and condemnation.

"It's basically an outsider selling an outsider culture to other outsiders without really reflecting on that process", was the opinion of Adam Gaudry, assistant professor of native studies at the university. Take that! Obviously, given the general social climate surrounding the white-hot topic of native empowerment following on generations of discrimination and neglect, sensitivities run high and any half-baked ideas revolving around having fun at the expense of aboriginals is distinctly lacking class.

And here is a perfect instance of one native group in an entirely other country taking umbrage on behalf of another native group living a far distance in a climate nothing like our own, who it would seem, from what a Hawaiian professor of Hawaiian history has to say, couldn't care less. Might, in fact, be hugely amused both by the poster, its implication of a warm, sunny destination and pleasure soaking up the surf and sun, a matter of national pride, in fact.

No sooner did the accusation of apprehended racism rear its ugly head than the student union moved with impressive alacrity to remove the offending image and replace it with a decidedly less glamorous but inoffensive one. Poof! gone the bikini-clad beauty ... Poof! in with the palm tree, sun, sandy island, and blue, blue Pacific Ocean. Harmless, lacking oomph! in the same manner as the one it replaced, but acceptable.

Mr. Gaudry, however, finds the "Tropical Night" exchange poster still problematical, concerned the intent is still there, and the change merely superficial. "To appropriate someone else's cultural traditions to celebrate a party that involves alcohol without involving the people who are supposed to be represented removes the agency of the people whose culture is represented, and how their culture is practised", he admonished.

The voice of reason responds with Mr. Osorio adding while he sympathizes with native students and professors "who have seen their own cultural icons appropriated, disfigured and, in some cases, mocked in a variety of different ways", speaking for his own culture, native Hawaiians actually couldn't care less.

Should Jews become outraged at the pillaging of Yiddish terms and words being absorbed into the lexicon of English buzz-words uttered by people who feel clever using them as they are so richly expressive of situations and observations that they become irresistible to those who consider themselves clever and cool appropriating expressions to show how au courant they happen to be?

Help yourselves.

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