How not to culturally appropriate this Halloween
Halloween is almost upon us. This means costumes. Do costumes mean cultural appropriation? Oh god.
A mention of cultural appropriation inevitably brings to mind hyper-sensitivity. It evokes a university culture of stifled debate and intellectual mollycoddling. Cases like UEA banning sombreros, and a debate over whether white people should be allowed to wear dreadlocks never fail to spark arguments.
At the University of Ottawa, a yoga class for disabled students was cancelled after accusations linking it to ‘cultural genocide’, whilst undercooked rice led students at Ohio’s Oberlin College to protest against culturally appropriated sushi. Whether you see this as divisive walling-off of culture, or justifiably protecting marginalised cultural heritage, there have clearly been plenty of storms in plenty of teacups.
Yet, underneath relentless outrage there lies a real issue.
“My culture is not a costume” is often heard as an explanation for accusations of cultural appropriation. Of course the usual response to this is to turn it on its head any say you’d be happy for people to use your culture as a costume. But issues of cultural appropriation only really flare up when it’s a group that’s been oppressed having its symbols and heritage banded about lightly, often by the group historically doing the oppressing. Insensitive costumes often reinforce negative stereotypes, and show a lack of understanding, an unwillingness to engage in people’s culture beyond aesthetics.
But the meshing of cultures is good. The spirit of having to ask a Mexican every time we had a burrito would have denied us the treasures of pizza and croissants. Do we have to read Turkey’s Wikipedia page every time we have a kebab? When done right, the mixing of ideas and cultures is one of the greatest things about living in an increasingly connected world. Historically it’s been one of the biggest drivers of progress.
Surely we shouldn’t have to deny all of this and stick rigidly to our own cultures for fear of offence. At best that’s timid, at worst we’ll end up with legions of sexy Nigel Farages.
Clearly there’s a line somewhere.
Do these costumes cross it?
There’s no getting around the fact that they look awesome, but a look to their context gives a strong argument against wearing them. They’re a sacred item earned over a lifetime by elders and worn on ceremonial occasions. Native Americans haven’t exactly had the easiest time, either. Headdresses have fallen out of vogue recently, and perhaps it’s for the best.
Verdict: Stick to sending up smoke signals from the garden of your house party.
One definition paints cultural appropriation as involving “a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.”
The domestication of felix catus is an historical oppression stretching back to Ancient Egypt. By parading around in a sexualised caricature, you, a member of the oppressive homo sapiens denigrate and degrade feline culture, batting it around like a cat with a ball of wool.
Verdict: Don’t fall victim to catural appropriation
Obviously this is fucking racist. Do you need to be told?
2016’s shite Ali G has been called modern day blackface. Take this alongside the chav-themed social in Bristol that was forced to be cancelled over accusations of mocking working class people. As unfunny as Honey G is, it seems to me as though she’s mocking the rich girls who put on tracksuits and try to be gangsta. And I’m sure no matter how affluent your town you know a few chavs that hang around the park.
If, by donning those infamous sunglasses and hiding your head beneath that flat peak, you can be simultaneously appropriating African American hip hop culture and British working class culture, don’t you think you’d better think twice?
Dressing up as everyone’s favourite childcare gorilla constitutes cultural appropriation, according to Florida State University.
That means this is strictly off limits:
Day of the Dead
Asda has recently come under fire for selling a ‘Halloween Day of the Dead’ costume. Clearly, a costume people dress up to have a party in is not appropriate for people to dress up in and have a party.
Amazon have come under fire for this costume. Can’t see why.
The University of East Anglia banned sombreros last year. Ok. The stall giving them out defended them as celebrating Mexican culture, and you’re inclined to agree. As long as you’re not teaming them up with a poncho, one of those fake mustaches and going round shouting “eyyyy ese burrito burrito”, you should be fine. Nothing wrong with sombreros, but wearing one doesn’t make you Mexican.
Perhaps all that’s left then is the classic witch? Wrong. Everyone’s well aware of the witch-hunts of the middle ages, but these executions took place in England up until the 18th century. Pointy hats, broomsticks, and fake crooked noses only reinforce the stereotypes that led to the systematic oppression and legalised murder of countless people throughout history.
Verdict: Don’t be the Wicked Witch of the Sesh
Whatever you wear, Google hard enough and someone, somewhere will have written a think piece denouncing your costume as the next big racist thing.
In fact, unless you’re of Celtic origin you’d better not celebrate Halloween at all. What we take as a fun excuse to dress up dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a ritual where people would ward off roaming ghosts. So you’d better stay home.
It’s a minefield. Just try not to be a dick.