Growing up a privileged white female in a predominantly white, small town with even smaller-minded inhabitants, cultural appropriation was an altogether foreign concept to me.
In fact, I hadn’t even heard that term,term, nor had I bothered to learn what it meant until my freshman year of college. Cultural appropriation refers to “borrowing” aspects of a different culture and implementing them into your own daily life; this can include, for example, white people putting cornrows in their hair or wearing a dashiki.
Cultural appropriation is a large concern for many reasons, the most problematic being that it cheapens another’s way of life. It exploits indigenous, African, Hispanic, and many other cultures and their heritage by allowing others to reap the benefits of them (especially when it comes to fashion) when nothing was done to earn these benefits and when little knowledge is known about the history behind the clothes and hairtstyleshairstyles being worn or the music being listened to.
My mother had allowed me to dress as a Native American for Halloween as a child without being aware of what she was doing; allowing me to masquerade around on a quest for candy while making a mockery of an entire heritage, essentially spitting on another group’s entire way of life.
While my mother has done right by me in many other regards, I think most of us have been guilty of this sort of thing at one point in our lives; I know I have. But it is important, especially as a person born with a certain degree of privilege afforded just by skin tone, to recognize that by simply looking the way that you do affords you many luxuries that other people don’t have.
And it is even more important to recognize that learning about another culture, showing genuine interest in its values and liking the look of an Indian bellydancingbelly dancing costume because it’s “sparkly and cute” is not the same thing.
This is Bbecause, at the end of the day, no matter how long you shop or how many stores you visit, you will never find a plastic bag hanging on a rack at Party City labeled “White Person.”
Because you, as a white person, have the luxury of going to the Clerk of Courts and finding extensive volumes of your family’s history: where they came from, in what year they came and on which boat, who they married, or the origins of your own last name.
So many other groups of people don’t have that luxury; they have no way of knowing any of this information because their entire cultures were stripped away from them in the name of colonization, imperialism, ethnocentrism and genocide.
All that many people of color have to bond with each other is that they are all of that one race; they do not have the luxury of tracing family members back to one specific Hispanic or African country or indigenous tribe because their livelihoods were uprooted and systematically slaughtered.
Take two seconds to ponder how disrespected you would feel if you were an indigenous person and a sacred piece of ceremonial dress was mass produced in a factory somewhere and then carelessly shoved into a plastic bag to be purchased by a person who most likely has no clue what this article means to the indigenous community.
I can guarantee you that people of Indian descent do not wear their ceremonial dress simply because of how seemingly cute and sparkly it is. So many groups of individuals in this country, who built this country out of backbreaking physical labor, , do not often receive the credit or acknowledgement they deserve for doing so.
They were savagely beaten, stolen from, physically and resourcefully exploited and even brought overseas as cargo. Their heritage and culture was dehumanized for years and even centuries in some cases..
Cultural appropriation is not specifically related to a person’s exploitation of another race; individuals of another religion, socioeconomic background or sexual orientation can be exploited and dehumanized in many of the same ways as can racial or ethnic exploitation.
Just because you personally may not feel the sting of this sort of oppression does not mean that it doesn’t exist. If you are not a Hispanic person, do not dress up today as a sugar skull or wear a sombrero.
If you are not black or African-American, do not braid your hair and strut around in a dashiki.
If you are not a transgender person or a member of the LGBTQ community, do not pose as any member of this group or refer to them with derogatory slander.
If you are not an indigenous person, do not tie feathers in your hair, do not wear a headdress and do not paint your face in a tribal fashion.
If you are not a Jewish or Muslim person, do not wear a hijab or any other religious dress.
This is not okay. It is not respectful. It is not cute.
It is the epitome of ignorance and asserting a privilege that so many oppressed individuals do not have.
You are making a mockery of important and sacred dress, you are perpetrating further ignorance and you are cheapening the experiences of so many people who have spent years in a state of systematic oppression, peopleand who duly paid for their right to wear these hairstyles and clothing with their blood, sweat and tears.
Don’t use Halloween as a platform to exert a privilege that so many individuals are made to go without.