March 3 2017
A University of Washington student is tired of others culturally appropriating her Swiss-German heritage.
“Germans, Austrians, and the Swiss aren’t just happy-go-lucky mountain folk who roam around with their cows and yodel on mountains, but popular culture would have you think nothing more,” Joy Geerkens wrote in an op-ed for the student newspaper.
Geerkins asked readers to “stop using aspects of different cultures within this region for your benefit,” imploring them to quit wearing slutty costume versions of traditional German attire for Oktoberfest or Halloween.
Geerkins said she didn’t mind women wearing choker necklaces, which are traditionally Swiss. But she reminded readers of their dark history; women wore them to mask neck scars caused by the goiters that arose from iodine deficiency in the region. And she added that it was disrespectful to fetishize the necklaces.
“This once again reduces my cultural heritage to something erotically appealing, dismissive of an entire history and country,” Geerkins wrote. “Wear them, but know the history behind the trend, and for the love of God, please do not keep spreading these offensive jokes about women being ‘whores’ for wearing them; it’s dehumanizing, sexist, and ignorant.”
In an email to Heat Street, Geerkens pushed back against the idea, prevalent on college campuses, that it’s impossible to appropriate from a “privileged” culture. She also said she wanted to make a distinction between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.
“My problem lies in the fetishization of any culture or heritage, and I don’t think an entire country or regions should be exempt from that (such as Switzerland, or Gemrany, as they were the focus of my article) simply because they are countries of wealth,” Geerkens said.
She added that she experiences cultural appropriation differently than many minority groups. Regarding Swiss and German culture, Geerkins said, it’s not a problem of “perpetuating oppression.”
Instead, she told Heat Street, she worries about “becoming one giant blob of western culture simply due to globalization,” and she’s also concerned that cartoonish versions of her culture are being marketed for consumption.
The process goes wrong, Geerkins wrote in her op-ed, when someone takes an easily accessible part of a culture and turns “them into a sort of fake pseudo-culture that is more like a trip to Disneyworld than a genuine cultural experience.”
Geerkins told Heat Street that she viewed cultural appropriation as “really harmful.”
“I don’t think the problem lies in a person enjoying a culture, for example, a person not of color appreciating the incredible beauty of cornrows even though they don’t belong to that culture,” she said in an email. “It’s the act of disregarding, fetishizing and mocking members of a community when they practice their cultural heritage, and then praising members not of that culture, but of the dominant culture when they commodify them.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.