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ISSUE 120 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/6/2006

Homecoming disturbs

By Andrea Horbinski
Opinion Editor

Friday, October 6, 2006

Another year, another questionable Homecoming theme. It was odd two years ago when the campus was decked in green for “Luck O’ The Oles,” since St. Olaf College is a Norwegian school and has no basis for claiming to be Irish. But many Americans have an ethnic Irish background, and in this country everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, so it seemed better to enjoy a green bagel and say nothing.

No such justification or prevarication exists for “Oles Down Under.” It’s downright sad to see that Homecoming, which this year also includes the inauguration of President David R. Anderson ’74, is centered around a theme which is so brazenly exploitative.

“Oles Down Under” is the exact opposite of what St. Olaf College claims to seek to instill in its students. The theme panders to the sort of pernicious stereotypes that we as “members of a global community” ought to be seeking to actively dispel, rather than swallow hook line, and sinker. I had thought that at St. Olaf, where so many of us have real international experience and thus presumably a global perspective, we could get beyond this sort of tiresome “exotic” drivel. I thought wrong. If there’s anything that flies in the face of a global education, it’s the whole-hearted, uncritical embrace of ethnocentric stereotypes.

The stereotypes which the Homecoming theme endorses aren’t just crass, they’re also offensive and wrong. Australia isn’t just populated by strange animals, spiders, and noisy parrots; there are people there too. The “Australian slang” on the back of the T-shirts was current in the 1960s, and many of the factoids strewn around Buntrock are similarly inaccurate. As a matter of fact, kangaroos can indeed jump with their tails on the ground; I know many Oles who have been to Australia and have seen them do it.

The tactless and disrespectful display of a cardboard cutout of the late Steve Irwin is the least of the organizers’ transgressions. You won’t hear any Homecoming events discussing the realities of Australian society, such as the violent homophobia and rampant racism that pervade it, or the fact that the theme’s conflation of white and “Aboriginal” culture is an insult to Australians on both sides of the color line.

Even my blanket use of the term “Aboriginal” is an inappropriate misnomer. “Aboriginal” peoples comprise some 250 linguistically and culturally distinctive groups after white Australians committed genocide against them. In most of those cultures, the boomerang is a ceremonial object as well as a tool, and Homecoming slapping it up everywhere is very close to being sacreligious. Giving away plastic boomerangs, leaving aside the disrespect of producing them in plastic, probably crosses that line. How would Christians feel if Homecoming handed out plastic crucifixes to play catch with?

Furthermore, I am quite sure that “Oles Down Under” would never have become reality if Australia’s major racial group were not Anglo-European white people. You’ll never see an “Ole Tribes of Africa” or “Ole Latinos!” Homecoming. Where will this sort of theme end? “Oles in Luxembourg”? And what will we do for Homecoming when we run out of countries to exoticize?

People will doubtless claim that Homecoming is all in good fun and that I am overreacting. But it’s possible for Homecoming to be fun without being culturally tone-deaf, and people used to think it was fun to see white people put on blackface and act out crude stereotypes of African-Americans on stage, too. “Oles Down Under” is the same sort of thing, and it suggests that our talk of diversity and respect is only skin-deep. You don’t get a pass on being considerate of other cultures, whether it’s for the sake of fun or not.

While it is an understandable typo, it seems emblematic that “stereotyped” was misspelled on the Homecoming T-shirts. Homecoming’s organizers should have considered more carefully both their spelling and the ramifications of their theme choice. Throw another hotdish on the barbie, folks, because things are crook in Muswellbrook on the Hill.

Opinions Editor Andrea Horbinski is a senior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in Classics with concentrations in linguistics and in Japan studies.

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