Being my favorite past time, Halloween presents itself as a night of pumpkin spiced lattes, horror movie marathons, and the freedom to dress up as anything or anyone your heart desires.
Among the array of grim reapers, Disney princesses, and Ninja Turtles, comes the all too familiar culture-based costumes, namely Indian chiefs, Japanese geishas, and religious deities which are notoriously chastised as instances of cultural appropriation.
Disney’s recall of Moana costumes in response to allegations of racism serves a recent resurfacing of this problem. While it appears that we’ve become overly harsh critics of seemingly innocent children’s costumes, this only serves as an instance in which we’ve failed to learn from our country’s chronic cultural insensitivity and invalidation of the experiences of minorities.
Being a Pacific Islander, I was initially baffled at the outpour of parents admonishing the idea of young, white girls donning a Moana costume. The spunky brown-skinned Disney princess proved herself to be a popular role model to many young girls throughout the globe just as previous generations of young girls looked up to Mulan, Pocahontas, and Jasmine.
The problem, however, isn’t that young, white girls are dressing up as Polynesian warrior princesses for Halloween, but rather the impression and level of ignorance towards minorities that some young, white girls grow up with with while getting away with dressing up in that particular minority’s culture.
Instances of these cultural mishandlings in Halloween costumes are merely the tip of the iceberg and cultural appropriation reveals itself in many forms throughout first world countries like our own.
We see this through the cacophony of dreamcatcher tattoos donned by “edgy” non-native teenagers and the incessant presence of Indian headdresses in EDM festivals. Meanwhile, the lowest-income and most neglected communities in our country consist of Native American communities struggling to escape the effects of our history’s blatant cultural genocide.
Frida Kahlo's iconic face fills the graffiti clad walls of Chicago’s trendiest neighborhoods. Yet, little resistance has been able to stop the continuing gentrification of predominantly Mexican neighborhoods like Pilsen.
Perhaps one of the most notorious, if not most prolific, instances of cultural appropriation clearly points towards our country’s picking and choosing of Black culture while continuing to get away with the dismissal of racially charged police brutality and institutionalized racism that impacts so many Black Americans.
Still, as much as minorities seek to decry this insensitivity, many are quick to paint them as “fascist social injustice warriors.”
Scrolling through social media, I chanced upon a poignant quote that perfectly captured these frustrations.
“When they want the thick hair but not the thick eyebrows. When they want the 'forehead jewel' but not the 'dothead.’ When they want the third eye but not the perspective. When they want the henna but not the history. When they want the bangles but not the troubles. When they want the flavor but not the smell. When they want the practice but not understand. When they want the benefits but not the disadvantages. When they want the light but not the heat. When they want the culture but not you.”
Sapna Bhavnani, an India based celebrity hairstylist, alluded to this quote amidst the cultural appropriation of Indian culture. These words strikes me as so utterly relevant in our society in which first world countries practice exploitive tendencies as a norm.
Culture is not a trend.
You are not doing us a favor by masquerading our culture as an “exotic” item.
As collectively diverse our country is, this does not excuse us of cultural conscientiousness and we can do better this Halloween by refraining from insensitive costumes.