Let me start by saying Halloween is my least favorite “holiday” if it can even be called such a thing. Beyond conflicts with my faith, I have always found it more haunting than amusing to look through my window and see people dressed up as the dead or with masks that aren’t even portraying humans. Haunted houses upset me too. How dare I pay you $40 for you to make me admittedly pee my pants a bit? It just isn’t for me. On the other hand, I find myself scrolling through photos of the year’s most creative costumes every November 1st morning. It never fails. I love to see collective creativity though I am not a fan of the night’s theme.
As diversity awareness picks up storm, particularly in American headlines, cultural costumes have found their way into the discussion and that’s when my ears perk up. Specifically the cultural appropriation phrase has landed in the center of the debate. Appropriation, only to be used with it’s proper definition in mind, is taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission. Now, with Halloween upon us, we have to figure out does dressing up as Pocahontas or a Geisha warrant you as a cultural appropriation target? I don’t think that’s always the case.
You will have to follow me down the rabbit hole as I attempt to answer this question. Costumes, adornment, and irregular clothing options are not bad. I can’t say the same for dressing up as an excessively sensual version of an actual person or ethnic group of people. Personally, if I do something great in life, I don’t want to know that young women portray me as a fiction-like cartoon with a mini skirt and exposed chest. This however doesn’t bother me because of my ethnic roots, but rather me as a person. I want to be portrayed as accurately and respectfully as possible. I must assume the same respect for Pocahontas, Joan of Arc, geisha, or other popular costume choices.
I scrolled through endless photos on CNN showing people dressed up as Native Americans, Blacks, Mexicans, Arabs, etc. It was startling that not one costume showed their ethnic identity with pride and honor. Rather the costumes showed black face, scarved men riding camels, grills, sombreros, and other mocked relics. While it’s hard to not be offended by such blatant disregard for the identity of actual people, the costuming choices scream more about the person than they do the people they supposedly portray. To be forthcoming, I can’t say I believe it’s wrong to dress up as someone from a different ethnic background.
I wholeheartedly believe that cultural expression should be shared and even explored. However, it should only be expressed with the utmost care and respect while pointing back to the source.
That’s a slippery slope, I know, but as a woman who grew up in a very diverse family, I can’t see anything wrong with sharing the beauty of my culture.
Now, if you’re shouting with excitement that someone thinks it’s okay for you to dress up like Pocahontas for Halloween, let me give you a history lesson. Pocahontas didn’t wear a mini skirt. She was the daughter of a paramount chief. She’s also not the Walt Disney version you grew up on. Joan of Arc did not look like The Bride of Kill Bill and walk around with a sword on her back. Geisha are not decorations with chopsticks in their hair. Portraying such is a flagrant offense. If you choose to portray someone this Halloween, do so respectfully by taking the time to learn first. If you don’t think it’s worth lesson in cultural etiquette, werewolves are still an option. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t care for Halloween anyways.