A Word on Cultural Appropriation

by Luciana Matteson (Senior) 

Halloween is fast approaching, kiddies. The one day a year where young and old can dress however they like, judgement-free, whether the goal be to frighten, amuse, or…culturally appropriate? Alas, that “Indian Princess” getup isn’t as innocently intended as you think.

America’s Halloween encourages a no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to costume creativity, and cultural stereotypes

An example of an "Indian Princess" costume that is LESS cute and MORE cultural appropriation.
An example of an “Indian Princess” costume that is LESS cute and MORE cultural appropriation.

have not-so-recently been included on that list. The genie, the gypsy, the historically-inaccurate Pocahontas – we’ve all seen them, maybe thought they were cute or clever, particularly when seen on, say, a white woman. This is cultural appropriation in action, folks. What is this cultural appropriation you speak of, you may ask. Cultural appropriation is most basically defined as the stealing or borrowing of bits and pieces of oppressed cultures by a dominant culture and the latter claiming it essentially as their own. This phenomenon is frequently found in fashion – i.e, the commercialized, unauthentic “Navajo” prints of the white fashion industry, the wearing of war bonnets by those who have not earned the honor to do so, and of course, stereotype-reinforcing Halloween costumes.

But I’m just honoring their culture! I’m not hurting anyone! It’s just a costume!

The thing is: you aren’t. You are. And it isn’t.

Usage of cultural stereotypes as costumes only perpetuates the false, negative, and often offensive stereotype of that culture, as well as quietly oppresses the culture in question.

As for the “honoring” argument, cultural appropriation only lets the dominant culture, most often whites, show their supposed “love” for the aesthetic aspects culture without loving the actual people in it. Example: a white woman Instagramming a rhinestone glued to her forehead, who later shouts “dothead” at a Hindu woman with a red bindi out in public. There’s about ten types of wrong with that.

It’s never, ever just a costume for the culture you are oppressing. It is not just a “sexy gypsy” outfit for a Romani person. It’s not “pretty skull face paint” to Mexicans celebrating Dia de los Muertos (which has no relation to Halloween whatsoever in the first place). The appropriation of pieces of cultures you deem acceptable and fashionable is only a reminder and reinforcement of the oppression, torture, and atrocities committed against their culture.

Think twice when you eye those costumes in Party City. With one simple purchase or lack thereof, you could be helping or oppressing an entire race of people.

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