It’s nearing Halloween again, and that means it’s time for popular, often offensive, costumes.
If you plan on dressing like an Indian or a Geisha, stop and think about the culture you are about to impersonate.
You could be committing what many people see as culture appropriation.
Culture appropriation is taking something specific to a culture, often with a history of oppression, and turning it into a fad or a novelty.
It is an act of privilege to have fun with something that symbolizes hardship for another group. It also perpetuates harmful stereotypes.
Essentially, it’s racism. Although I think this is a tad harsh, and definitely not intended by everyone who dresses up in such costumes, let me explain.
Native Americans are often grossly misrepresented. This is a group who has been treated horribly throughout history.
Americans dissembled their heritage by kicking them off of their homelands and labeling them as savages.
So when you wear a fake headdress, face paint, or even worse, sexualize Native American women with revealing dresses, you are attempting to own what isn’t yours, and representing it incorrectly.
It is incredibly offensive to see someone making fun of another person’s culture through a crudely put-together outfit.
Other examples I often see are people impersonating Arabs with turbans or headwraps, or long beards and sunglasses.
Sombreros, ponchos and empty tequila bottles all wrongly label Hispanic heritages.
I do think that people take the stereotypes and costumes way too far, but I also think that not all instances can be lumped together as racism.
There are plenty of people who are mindful of different cultures and histories, and embrace those symbols and icons with respect.
Cultures are shared, transferred and mixed all over the place. It is almost impossible to adhere to one culture alone, especially in the melting pot that is America.
Clothing styles, foods, religious practices, hobbies and ideas are all borrowed from other places, and there is nothing wrong with that.
It’s the way you go about it and with what intent that matters.
Have respect for heritages that aren’t your own, but please don’t perpetuate the white stereotype of being ignorant and privileged by wearing something that deeply hurts another. Just think about your potential Halloween costume.
We need to celebrate and embrace other cultures, not make a mockery of them.
Please feel free to disagree with me. I’d love to have a discussion about this.
Free speech comes with the knowledge that you can and will be critiqued for what you say or do.
Even the most offhand words and actions have real power.
Kelsey Sutton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.