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  • November 2011
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I’m a Culture, Not a Costume

For today’s Pittsburgh teens, it can be a very multicultural world. It’s likely there are students in your school with heritage from at least five continents. You can use sites like Livemocha to exchange languages by videochatting with people from all over the world.

Also, one of the latest trends in the pop world is artists like Beyonce borrowing from all sorts of world music styles, taking cues from Arab spring and getting choreography from kwaito dancers from the Mozambique, Tofo Tofo, for chart-topping hit videos:

The other side of borrowing fanciful aspects of other cultures for entertainment are the people from those cultures. And a group of students at Ohio University, S*T*A*R*S (standing for Students Teaching About Racism in Society), they want to make sure that people see the real human young adults who are part of the cultures being put on display and adopted as costumes not just for Halloween, but all sorts of themed parties around college campuses and high schools.

The truth is, seeing their culture and traditions put on display by others without the proper respect can hurt the Latin, Arabic, Asian, and African Americans in our neighborhoods, schools, and communities.

Even when people are respectful and thoughtful and do a lot of research, they can still benefit from other people’s stories in unfair ways. The library has a great list of excellent literature featuring teens from all over the world, but if you look a little further, you’ll see that many of the people writing about the plights of poor youth all across the globe don’t really have any relation to the issues and are lucky that they can write to support themselves instead of having to walk miles to reach the closest drinkable water.

It’s interesting to think about our relationship to the multicultural, global world we’re now growing up in. And making sure we think about that relationship with a sense of self-awareness. Or, if we can identify with any of the S*T*A*R photos above, to take that phrase as a rallying cry of strength and pride of your cultural heritage because, in some real ways, nobody can take that from us.

~Joseph
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main

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