Local oriental-themed night sparks debate over cultural appropriateness

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A ‘Dance of the Dragon’ event at Loft nightclub has sparked debate about the issue of cultural appropriation as part of culturally themed events.

The event, organised by Arc and Fever, originally had an oriental theme and pictured Shanghai as “a place that offers so much excess, debauchery, mystique, and exotic promise” on its page on social media.

The event also promised that Chinese face paint would be provided to ensure that all the participants of the event “look the part for the oriental adventure.”

Both the event theme and its description have since been criticised by students and student groups alike. The Facebook group, Race Matters, accused the event of being both reductive and outright racist.

Compass, an online group that platforms healthy debate, highlighted the fact that events, such as ‘Dance of the Dragon’ at Loft, encourage cultural appropriation when someone adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own, and that this in turn can lead to participants using reductive and offensive stereotypes to express such themes.

After discussion with Arc and Fever, Compass managed to get both the event theme and information changed so that the theme was no longer China.

They said: “After discussions on why cultural appropriation is so problematic, they recognise the issue, and apologise for the offence caused.”

The theme is no longer China, and despite the aesthetic appearance of dragons, the entire culture is not being reduced to what might be seen as basic and retired stereotypes.

Although the debate over themed nights involving some aspect of cultural appropriation has been sparked by the ‘Dance of the Dragon’ event, it is just one in a myriad of culturally themed events that have taken place this year.

Loveshack nightclub held a Mexican themed ‘Day of the Dead’ event on Halloween, while the Durham Union Society also held an oriental-styled event at the 24 North Bailey club.

In March 2014, the Durham Students’ Union resolved that the Durham SU should encourage event organisers to consult students who might be affected by events of a racial or ethnic nature.

The issue was brought up in the wake of various themed events that had encouraged disrespectful stereotypes and that did not “respectfully represent the diversity” of various cultures.

An member of the Chinese Society at Durham University told Palatinate: “I think the theme was plausible, but it is also important to note that different people may interpret the term ‘cultural experience’ differently, especially when it’s taken in the form of entertainment.

“The right approach must be made with some thoughtful considerations for events similar to this in the future.”

However, Durham students also conceded that cultural appropriation does not need to lead to offensive and racist stereotypes provided that they are organised in a tasteful manner.

In conversation with Palatinate, first-year St Chad’s student raised his concerns.

“The problem of culturally themed events can arise through the creation of generalisations, but if conducted with respect and dignity, this can be avoided or at least made clear.

“Themed events can be tasteful if they adopt an approach that takes into consideration the sensitivity and uniqueness of particular cultural groups.”

Craig also attended the recent Durham Union Society themed event and believed that it was organised in a considered and sensitive way.

He said: “In my view, the DUS event treated with supreme courtesy and respect the culture that it appropriated.

“As such, it was able to attract a large number of members of that particular cultural group.

“The end result was an increase in social integration, and general appreciation of the culture that was being appropriated.”

A first-year member of the Hong Kong Society, Hilaire Wong, shared a similar view towards culturally themed events.

She told Palatinate: “I would understand how some could be offended by this supposed ‘exotification’ of Chinese culture, but I wouldn’t agree that such events are meant to undermine culture in such a manner.

“Cultural themed events can absolutely be executed tastefully. When participants are conscious of the possible areas of sensitivity in the culture and act accordingly with appropriate behaviour, such as refraining from making jokes when it can be taken either way by the other party.”

Photograph: Arc & Fever

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