Culture appropriation is still a problem with costumes

I didn’t think I was going to have anything to say this year regarding Halloween apparel due to the fact racial and social issues have been so recently addressed by St. Olaf. However, it says a lot about the privileged mindsets of people at our institution and effectiveness of the highly generalized DiversityEdu program that the problem still exists.

Just a quick disclaimer: I understand a crash course on diversity is not going to solve the racial issues on campus. I also understand that cultural appropriation is a complex issue and requires an immense amount of sensitivity that may not be one’s typical thought process, especially regarding a holiday. 

I also understand that neither of these two statements are excuses for hurtful behavior.

Let’s also make something clear: cultural appropriation, by definition, is the adaptation of elements from one culture by those of another culture. Although it isn’t always a bad thing, it becomes problematic when a majority culture takes said cultural element from a minority culture that they hypocritically denounce. And whether or not people want to believe it, cultural appropriation can be racist.

Think about your costume this year…

1. Was it from a culture that was not your own?

2. Did it require you to adopt exaggerated behaviors or alter your appearance to stereotypical extremes?

 3. Did you sexualize a sacred, respected or highly revered character or thing?

4. Could someone find the costume offensive? Please think hard about this one. Consider worldwide audiences.

5. What point are you trying to make?

6. Did you do the research? A simple Google search will quickly tell you the answer.  

No, it is not possible to please everyone, but that is not an excuse to not consider how your actions affect others. Enacting a racial or cultural stereotype is racist. Halloween may have passed, but these questions apply to how you hold yourself on the daily. Do you know if your septum ring is a form of appropriation? Could an article of clothing that you mindlessy wear have a symbolic print on it that may, in fact, be sacred? Is it really appropriate for you to get a tribal tattoo or a tattoo of a phrase in another language when you do not know its true meaning or all the implications it has? Have you ever criticized someone for what you yourself are doing?

Please be mindful of those around you. I want to believe that we are a part of a generation that respects and appreciates differences, not one that continues to whitewash beautiful aspects of cultures that are not our own. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take self-reflection. But it’s going to be worth it. We all live here together, and it sure as hell doesn’t cost anything to be nice.