A dean at the University of Oklahoma (OU) has been forced to apologize after he made an attempt at multicultural outreach by donning traditional Middle Eastern clothing.
Charles Graham is a dean at OU’s architecture school, and he unintentionally caused a kerfuffle last week when a picture posted to OU’s Facebook page showed him lecturing a back-to-school meeting while wearing a thawb and keffiyeh:
The two garments are commonly worn by Middle Eastern men, and are associated with Islam, though they are neither required of Muslims nor forbidden for non-Muslims.
According to The Oklahoma Daily, within a few days of the picture’s appearance the school had received several anonymous complaints from people who said his choice of attire was offensive. It’s not clear whether the complaints were because Graham was appropriating Middle Eastern culture, or because people were upset because the clothing is associated with Islam. (RELATED: Now Wearing A Kimono Is Racist If You Aren’t Japanese)
Graham himself swiftly issued an apology, saying he had no intention of offending Muslims and that in fact he had been trying to promote cultural diversity.
“I asked a number of my Muslim friends around campus and in Norman to see if my wearing the attire would be offensive in any religious way, and the answers were all resoundingly ‘no,'” Graham said in his apology, before comparing the outfit to the wearing of cowboy hats or Scottish kilts. “They thought it would be a nice gesture of diversity and acceptance of other cultures.”
Graham’s decision to wear the clothing wasn’t random. OU has a study-abroad program in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Graham bought the clothing the last time he visited the country. Graham added that while wearing the clothing he took time to discuss his attire and named its individual components.
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