Cultural appropriation is an issue that’s run rampant in our country for years, though the matter is continually ignored, particularly so annually on October 31.
Cultural appropriation is an issue that’s run rampant in our country for years, though the matter is continually ignored, particularly so annually on Oct. 31.
The crime refers to picking elements from another ethnicity or group without permission and recontextualizing them, belittling a culture for personal benefit, and expressing racial superiority.
The adoption of aspects of another culture from a position of privilege is a form of additional exploitation because it fails to recognize the shared experiences or adversity that led to the development of the culture being considered.
For some reason the line between cultural sensitivity and freedom of speech is hazy for the majority of people, but does the First Amendment truly triumph over the Declaration of Independence’s claims that “all men are created equal”?
The concept of equality is devastated when people choose to exhibit other’s identities as a trend, a game or a satirically sexualized version of its original self. If the majority is able to assume minority culture for mere pleasure, disparaging its value and genesis, then equity certainly isn’t present. Cultural appropriation is ubiquitous every day of the year, but the issue always becomes especially prevalent around Halloween.
The problem with the holiday is the word “costume.” An Indian “costume”, a gypsy “costume”, a geisha “costume” is delegitimizing someone else’s culture and marginalizing it down to nothing but a trend for the consumption of the privileged. Pocahontas and Pancho Villa are common examples of a legitimate struggle being amounted to satire. The most disgusting part is that most people don’t even realize the adversity at hand. That’s why the first step to dismantling cultural appropriating is understanding the culture and it’s origins before assuming it for yourself.
Remember that our colonists caused a cultural genocide for a Native American continent, eradicating entire tribes and their tradition by raping, brutalizing and driving the natives off their land. Remember that the word “gypsy” is a racial slur toward people of the Romani ethnicity created by those who persecuted them. Remember that a geisha is recognized in Japan (not China) as the “ultimate hostess” and that this doesn’t mean she’s a prostitute, but that she’s extremely skilled and respected.
Western culture has taken the liberty of adopting others identities for their own entertainment, the “geisha costume” being one of our worst offenders. The American novel “Memoirs of a Geisha” skyrocketed it into the mainstream Western media, though the significance of being a geisha was skewed in by the made up drama and sex that was added to the novel solely for commercial value.
What you thought was a cutting edge, feminist story to share at your bookclub actually hypersexualized an entire race of women, replacing a definitive part of their culture with the stereotype of being submissive, perpetuating a negative interpretation of Japanese tradition. Halloween geishas reaped the benefits of appropriation yet failed to recognize the significance of what they’re wearing, educate themselves on its origins, or realize the connotations that are attached to it.
There’s not hope for the argument of “appreciation,” because the lack of sensitivity and care on Halloween has already exemplified pure appropriation. Blackface, found alongside horror makeup in Halloween stores everywhere, is blatantly demonizing an entire race.
ASOS, a trendy women’s clothing store, filed bindis under the Halloween tab of their website, though the packaging never indicated they were a costume piece. A kimono styled dress was labeled “Asian Princess Costume,” though the outfit clearly takes on a traditional Japanese style. This generalizing all Asian culture into one race, Orientalism at its very worst.
Minorities are constantly robbed of their identity, but ethnicities alone aren’t the only thing being appropriated; other examples of minority struggle are being glamorized (and trivialized).
Caitlin Jenner struggles with sexuality: mimicked. Health issues like anorexia and obesity are dealt with by millions of Americans: mimed. Three-point-five million people are homeless in our country every year: the bourgeois guy who couldn’t spare a dime on the street is applauded for his “hobo” costume on Halloween.
So before you peruse Urban Outfitters for bohemian garments, generalizing the idea of what it means to be a “gypsy” to a long skirt and a coin sash, realize that Bohemia is a region of the Czech Republic, where gypsies faced ruthless oppression. Realize what’s been ignored for too long.
Realize that we’ve butchered countless cultural, sexual and physical identities. We’ve turned others rituals into games for ourselves. We’ve created incorrect replicas of iconography that’s sacred to others. We’ve disregarded and marginalized adversity to make room for our own agendas. We’ve turned identities into costumes, dehumanizing minorities and prolonging prejudice and discrimination.
We appropriate every Halloween, and we continue to for the remaining 364 days of the year.
Art Credit: Joel Mayorga/The Foothill Dragon Press