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Oct. 31, 2016

I am not a costume

by Maniza Habib, Online Managing Blogs Editor & Online News Editor
With Halloween just a few days away, expect fall themed lattes, spooky decorations, horror movie marathons and terrifying displays of cultural appropriation.

Choosing the right costume every year is a difficult decision, but choosing a culturally sensitive one is not. For Halloween, some go the traditional route and dress as a ghost or a witch, but others choose to dress themselves in attire representative of another culture, often drawing from stereotypes. The possibilities of culturally insensitive costumes are endless, ranging from "Terrorist Arab" to "Ghetto Black" to "Nerdy Asian." Cultures are not costumes, and people should avoid representing them as so.
Chasing Fireflies sells costumes like "Indian Mahrani Princess," "Kimono Princess Wig" and "Native American Princess." Courtesy of Chasing Fireflies
Chasing Fireflies sells costumes like "Indian Mahrani Princess," "Kimono Princess Wig" and "Native American Princess."

A few weeks ago, a popular costume company called Chasing Fireflies sent out their annual booklet to some houses in the local area. It featured costumes like the "Native American Princess" and "Indian Maharani Princess" in their catalog for girls. This may seem harmless at first, but the implications are far reaching. When girls are allowed to dress up as Native American or Indian, or any culture, for just one day, they show that these cultures are simply just costumes. It degrades an entire culture to a few defining features and turns it into a costume someone can wear for one day only, when people actually belonging to the culture deal with the very real stereotypes and stigmas every day.

Often times, only people with privilege are afforded the ability to appropriate a Halloween costume, and often times, this applies to white people. White American is seen as the norm, while any other culture is seen as exotic and different. This ostracizes people of color and their cultures. While white culture can borrow from other cultures while still maintaining their own "whiteness", marginalized cultures do not have this option. There is white dominance over what is cool, what is common, what is criminal and what is crude.

Cultural appropriation primarily relates to the oversimplification and adoption of any defining characteristic of an ethnicities’ culture by individuals who are not a part of the culture. It is essentially a power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture are able to take elements from a culture of a non-dominant culture - without acknowledging the continuous oppression. Culturally insensitive Halloween costumes work the same way. People have the privilege to take from another culture and wear it as a costume for a day. They then also have the privilege to ignore the actual culture and the people who it belongs to.

Cultural appropriation is more than just crude costumes; it generates very real racism. It is not the most glaring or objective form of racism, but cultural appropriation such as Halloween costumes can perpetuate negative stereotypes. By ignoring an entire history and context of a culture, an entire people are ignored. Pieces of a culture that are taken and turned into a costume are often so narrow that it perpetuates negative stereotypes. It takes pieces of a culture and defines the culture with just those pieces, which contributes to the degradation. Appropriation belittles a culture. It takes someone’s whole life and boils it down to one image. Being Native American is not about headdresses and tribal calls. Being Indian is not about saris and bindis and henna. Being black is not about rap and slang and hip-hop. Being Japanese is not about pale, made-up faces and kimonos. All of these cultures and ethnicities have histories of traditions and customs that have always been looked down upon.

The Internet storms with debates between the difference of cultural appropriation and appreciation. Those who have worn culturally inspired Halloween costumes sometimes claim their appreciation for the culture. However, appropriation is based on exploitation and ignorance, not a genuine appreciation of another ethnic culture. Those who appropriate enjoy a limited aspect of a particular culture, forgetting any kind of respect or true understanding. Unlike cultural appropriation, cultural appreciation develops out of understanding, awareness and action.

Culturally insensitive Halloween costumes and other forms of cultural appropriation does not always come from malicious intent. There are genuine forms of interest and intrigue in cultures, but Halloween costumes are not the way to show appreciation of a culture. There is a fine line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Discussion is an important tool in fostering awareness for different cultures and customs, and it is important to always speak out and listen.

Halloween costumes can do better than racial stereotypes. It is time we recognize that.




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  • whomever (View Email) on October 31, 2016 at 7:23 PM
    Just for the record: anyone can be a geisha. Any woman of any race can be a geisha, so long as they have the willingness to do so. This is the same for Kimonos; anyone can wear a Kimono-race is not a factor. In fact, many Japanese people encourage foreigners to adopt their traditional cultures, as many of these industries are dying in the country. To claim that a white person wearing a kimono or traditional geisha garb is racist is simply irresponsible, and displays a profound lack of research on the issue.
  • someone on October 31, 2016 at 10:22 PM
    To the previous commenter: the point is that cultures are not trends. You shouldn't be wearing a kimono because that is part of Japanese culture - if you're not a part of that, you should not wear a kimono and it's as simple as that. Almost all geisha costumes sold are stereotypical and negative portrayals. Also just think about it for a second: why is it that among all these scary spooky ghost, witch, monster etc costumes - people find the need to wear racialized costumes? Is whiteness so normalized that a geisha or kimono or Native American is so exotic? The point is none of these costumes should be costumes: they're not authentic and provide such a 1-dimensional view of a culture. CULTURE is not a trend.
    • another person on October 31, 2016 at 10:30 PM
      rft to this last person im sorry that "whomever" feels the need to be crush the values and customs of a culture and im sorry that this bomb article didn't teach them otherwise because anyone with a brain woulda take the advice and wisom of the author here. whomever must be pretty thick
    • anyone (but not whomever) on November 2, 2016 at 10:15 AM
      https://www.reddit.com/r/japan/comments/4f22q3/is_it_actually_offensive_for_foreigners_to_wear/

      I'm assuming that you're saying that one shouldn't wear a costume that is part of another culture unless one understands its significance in that culture. In that case, what's racist is the one-dimensional stereotyping of that culture, not the 'appropriation'. Perhaps I could very generously interpret 'cultural appropriation' as only referring to offensively stereotyped costumes, but this reeks of a motte & bailey fallacy (http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/03/all-in-all-another-brick-in-the-motte/). Why not use precise language to attack only racists, rather than using a deliberately vague phrase that catches many innocent people in the net?
      • anyone (but not whomever) on November 2, 2016 at 4:35 PM
        Commenting again to be fair: while the concept of cultural appropriation is wildly misused as described previously, stereotyped costumes are probably the most reasonable example of it that I've heard. Costumes where somebody dresses up 'as a culture' are likely offensive and possibly harmful. However, costumes of traditional Native American garb would be a far better example of this than geisha, which aren't exotic because of the 'normalization of whiteness'. People in Japan sometimes dress up as geisha for their own Halloween celebrations, it's clearly exotic enough for them. Once again, there are criticisms to be made, but it seems like rather than targeting actual racists, most people talking about this simply attack anyone who doesn't perfectly agree (see the ad hominem targeted at whomever).
      • No on November 2, 2016 at 5:26 PM
        I think costumes in general show NO UNDERSTANDING of the culture. A costume is not embracing a culture at all! It degrades it down to a fun Halloween decoration
      • ok but on November 2, 2016 at 5:59 PM
        idk if you're understanding that the difference is between cultural appropriation and appreciation. The author specifically says that this is a fine line, and that's why it's important to talk about. Appreciation is what you're describing as understanding something's significance in a cultural and being positively invited to partake in that culture (however doing so for something as trivial as halloween would never be ok). Appropriation, however, is defined as taking(something) for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission (thanks dictionary.com). The most important part here is taking it for your OWN use. Someone else's culture will never be yours sorry. And yea a lot of people get caught in that net, some of them are ignorant though not innocent. It's your job as a human, especially if you are white, to understand the difference between appropriation and appreciation. if u don't then you're just practicing more ignorance
  • *sighs* on November 2, 2016 at 2:52 PM
    You know, in the 1960s, progressives fought against segregation. Now it seems that they've come full-circle and want to actively keep cultures apart. What an ironic shame. Not that I'd expect any better from Silver Chips.

    (Also, who wants to bet that this writer wouldn't count black people wearing lederhosen and going to Oktoberfest "cultural appropriation?")
    • ROLLS MY EYES on November 10, 2016 at 5:03 PM
      how dare u bring up the civil rights movement as something that would create an environment in which cultural appropriation is positive.

      how dare u...

      (also YES the writer wouldn't count that as cultural appropriation cause 'Oktoberfest' isnt a deeply rooted cultural tradition of a marginalized group that has been previously discriminated against soooooo)
      • 友夜 皇中 (View Email) on November 20, 2016 at 11:14 PM
        "How dare u (sic)" doesn't seem that constructive of a comment.
        But in response to your comment, the left has been constantly moving the goalposts regarding the definitions of the terms they use.

        I also honestly don't care what you where or do. No one should be stopped or discouraged from wearing or doing something from outside their culture, but they also shouldn't be protected from being ridiculed.
  • woke on November 8, 2016 at 9:44 PM
    tbh u woke
  • Actually Stop (View Email) on November 11, 2016 at 12:56 PM
    Cultural appropriation is stupid. Cultures can be mocked. Stop trying to police people's enjoyment. People just want to have some fun after a lot of work and you policing their free time is annoying. You Social Justice Warrior idiots need to focus on improving your common sense instead of trying to police other people's enjoyment.
    • actually you stop on November 13, 2016 at 6:33 PM
      this is pretty much your guilt speaking ^^^^ This writer isn't policing anyone, this is obviously her speaking from her own experiences as part of a marginalized culture. "Cultures can be mocked" wow
      • Facts don't care about your feelings (View Email) on November 20, 2016 at 11:05 PM
        Do you have any argument besides accusing OP of just being guilty? This writer is policing people's activity. She is accusing them of racism, or enabling it; also, of whcih marginalised culture are you a member?
  • Joe on December 22, 2016 at 11:00 PM
    yes princesa tell them.
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