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Racism 101 Asked And Answered: Celebrating Multiculturalism Vs. Being A 'Culture Vulture'

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Singer Gwen Stefani attends a party to introduce her Harajuku Lovers children's collection at Duff's Cakemix in 2015 in West Hollywood. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
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UPDATE: This post was updated to include Mike Roe's response.

By Giuliana Mayo and Dana Amihere

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WHAT IS RACISM 101?

The country erupted into protests, unrest and a renewed dialogue about systemic racism following George Floyd's killing. We held the first round of a virtual conversation event series, Unheard LA: A Deeper Listen, with a tie-in to Race In LA. The discussion repeatedly returned to how Black and Brown people were being asked for their opinion, for resources and to answer questions on racial issues -- and how exhausting it can be.

In response, we created Racism 101 to help our audience facilitate their own thought-provoking talks around race, with a conversation "starter kit," and extensive anti-racism resource guides to inform and educate.

We also solicited questions from our audience -- awkward, silly, tough-to-ask questions -- that they've perhaps wanted to ask people unlike themselves, but have been too shy, embarrassed or afraid to ask. We assembled a panel of 12 Angelenos willing to answer these questions so folks didn't have to ask their friends, or even strangers.

Here are several of our panelists' responses to one of the questions that we received.

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WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

Q: "At what point does appreciation for another culture cross over into appropriation?"

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Singer Eliza Doolittle performs during Day 3 of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2011 held at the Empire Polo Club. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images)

Q: "How do you feel about dressing up for Halloween as a character that is a different ethnicity from yours, if you don't change your skin color or hair?"

Is it OK for me to collect crafts from another culture? Is my Halloween costume offensive? There's a gulf of difference between a white woman collecting Mexican pottery out of admiration for the artistry and a group of sorority girls dressing up as "Mexicans" in ponchos and sombreros for a party.

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The distinction isn't always so obvious in popular culture. Sometimes cultural appropriation feels like one of those, "I'll know it when I see you know it kind of things:" The feather headdresses crowds at Coachella, Katy Perry dressed as a geisha, Gwen Stefani with her Harajuku crew and who could forget Angelina Jolie's faux locks in the early aughts' "Gone in 60 Seconds?" Our panelists really dug in and brought their experiences and perspectives to the table to give you a few takes on this hot button issue.

HOW OUR RACISM 101 PANELISTS RESPONDED

Donna, a local artist who proudly identifies as Black and queer, was passionate when she told us how she distinguished appreciation from appropriation:

Roseanne, a descendent of several tribes originating from New Mexico, had this to say about cultural appropriation:

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"This is a challenging question. Admiration for another culture is flattering when it is done with respect. Asking for permission from the people in that culture to photograph and allowing the people to invite you to participate is the appropriate way to ensure that you are not appropriating. Avoid imitating the people of the other culture or replicating their crafts/goods is my best advice."


RELATED: Racism 101 Asked And Answered: "What's The Deal With The Word 'Cholo'?"


...and had this advice about being respectful around Halloween:

"This is a great question. I feel that it is better not to portray someone from another ethnic group. There are many issues with dressing up as another ethnicity. For example without complete knowledge of the ethnic group one can not fully understand the culture. Therefore although innocently, one may not understand the sacred, spiritual, or general importance of regalia or clothing specific to another culture. Wearing a costume portraying another culture even if you don't change your hair or skin can be hurtful and may be interpreted as a mockery to those from the culture. So, refraining from this practice would be my advice."

Mike, from our LAist newsroom, describes himself as mixed race. He had a thoughtful response to culturally insensitive Halloween costumes:


ASK US ANYTHING

Do you have a question that you'd like to ask as part of Racism 101? Tell us.