A Perspective on Cultural Appropriation

Rina Cakrani, Columnist

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The issue of cultural appropriation has been and still is very debatable and some would say ‘controversial’, because apparently we still don’t have a clear idea of what appropriating a culture truly is like. However, this issue becomes more prominent and even more debatable during Halloween time, especially in the U.S. context. It is totally fair and important to treat this issue carefully and with the utmost caution, since there have been so many cases in which Halloween become an  extreme example  of cultural appropriation. One should be careful when deciding what costume to wear, in particular if they are white.

Illustration by Tywen Kelly

It is important to keep in mind that other people’s cultures are not costume. If you are white, you have no right to dress up as anything that belongs to the indigenous people or to Latino people or to African people. Your white ancestors (not necessarily your own, but generally speaking), probably enslaved, killed or were blatantly racist  and it would be best if one were to  stay in their  own space without violating the spaces to whom these cultures belong to. Also, it is hugely hypocritical to want to dress up as a mariachi or a Native American especially considering that most of the white students don’t even care about their existence when it comes to everyday life. In addition, the hypocrisy stands in that a major portion of the society doesn’t want Mexicans or Black people, but they love to steal from their culture; they love their food, their music, their style, but they don’t want the people. Don’t perpetuate the hypocrisy; don’t dress up as Beyonce if you feel uncomfortable with the Formation video due to the Black Power message, don’t dress up as a mariachi when you know your relatives that come to visit, would probably just be labelling every group of Mexicans that they see when you go downtown.

Appropriating culture especially for Halloween means that your culture (the white one, i don’t even know if we can talk about white culture, if that even properly exists), is the center and once a year you get the chance to experience a new one, an ‘exotic’ one, one that you would unconsciously consider inferior any other day of the year, one that belongs to a marginalized community, which already has it hard enough but now has to see all the white girls trying to do blackface so they can look like Aaliyah or Selena.  Don’t wear dreadlocks. And not just for Halloween, but ever! Is just that for Halloween, certain practices become ‘acceptable’ or ‘allowed’, when they in fact should never be permitted.

Certain cultural characteristics have been emphasized as tools for resisting the oppression that white people have historically imposed. They are there as established structures, as symbols to fight the white supremacy and to create and define the struggle. Dreadlocks are not just a hairstyle, they are an historic symbol, an emblem of remembrance of a long fought oppression. They are not yours to take, they are not ‘exotic’ or ‘edgy.’ You don’t fight that struggle. When Black people carry dreadlocks they are considered ‘thugs’; when you carry them, they are seen as ‘cute’ or ‘edgy’. You have that privilege because your life is not confined by it. Don’t enact that privilege. Don’t dress as Pocahontas, don’t dress as Moana. Most of you  consider brown girls unattractive on a daily basis (by the way, y’all brown girls are beautiful), but want to be like them and find Halloween as an  opportunity to do so. Dress as Superman or as Wonder Woman. The community of color is not fine with you ‘borrowing’ from their culture. So don’t do that.

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