Dismissing others’ experiences not conducive to productive discourse

Last week, I shared The Huffington Post article, ‘Urban Outfitters Controversy Brewing As “Juan At Wal-mart Shirt Angers Latinos,”’ on my Facebook page.

I offered little commentary accompanying the post except to say that as a Latina, I was disgruntled that an Urban Outfitters in the Queens Center Mall in New York would include a used Wal-Mart worker’s shirt with a name tag labeled ‘Juan’ in its consignment portion of the store.

Within minutes, my post faced a deluge of comments reiterating parts of the original article, clarifying to me that it was a “one-of-a-kind” shirt and that many other shirts like it from small-name mechanic shops were sold with “non-Hispanic” names.

Other commenters said they weren’t sure why it was a big deal: “It’s just a shirt.”

The opportunity to purchase “Juan’s” used Wal-Mart work shirt from Urban Outfitters — a company who has had more than its share of problems with racism, sexism and cultural appropriation — feels all too much like an act of ironic racism and classism.

Acts of ironic racism, cultural appropriation and ethnic stereotyping may not be everyone’s reality, but this isn’t reason enough to dismiss a person as being irrational for being upset at these kinds of events.

While things like this may not seem like such a big deal to others, no one person possesses the ultimate authority to tell me or anyone else that it is incorrect to feel offended.

In a November 2012 interview with Jezebel.com, ASU anthropology professor Jessica Metcalfe explains it best.

Referencing things like Urban Outfitters’ careless use of “Navajo” prints and the 2012 Victoria’s Secret fashion show’s use of a floor-length Native American war bonnet on model Karlie Kloss, Metcalfe said: “We’re being told that we don’t have rights over how we are represented in mainstream America. We are being told that we should ‘get over it’ — but the people who are saying this don’t even know what the issues are.”

Metcalfe’s comments don’t just apply to incidents of appropriation of Native American culture but also for the culture of any oppressed peoples.

In the marketplace of ideas — especially ideas about race and culture — no one person is allowed to tell us what we should or should not feel “rightfully” upset.

The Internet provides each of us with a space where we can freely post articles or news clips about things that make us excited, confused or outraged. Because of the speed and nature of technology, there is always the possibility for someone to share an account of an event without an in-depth examination of the circumstances.

However, it should never be assumed that the very real feelings that come with each post also stem from an unexamined place.

Who is anyone to tell another person that their feelings regarding a certain issue are invalid? Is that not an element of oppression?

It is all too easy to swap a re-examination of our own ways of thinking for a quick dismissal of others’ ideas and feelings just because they seem unfamiliar.

The real goal of sharing how we feel about current events should be to foster an open and honest space for ongoing discourse about how each of us can approach future scenarios with an evolved sense of respect for others.

It is in true conversation with each other and in genuine attempts at acknowledging and understanding perspectives that may be very different from our own, that real knowledge flourishes.

 

Reach the columnist at andrea.c.flores@asu.edu or follow her at @BOWCHICKAFLORES

 

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