For years I have watched people adapt different elements of a culture or as identities of a culture. Such ‘costumes’ include Native American wear, gypsy woman, and hula dancers. The main reason for why this is so bad is because the cultures people choose to dress up as are usually disadvantaged groups. To be clearer, here are some examples of cultural appropriation.
- Blackface makeup
This should be obvious, but apparently people still do not understand this. Dressing up as an ethnic stereotype is racist, especially if you are a white person pretending to be black by wearing very dark makeup all over your face. Dressing up as someone else’s culture is extremely offensive and should never be done. There was a news story about fraternity parties in the USA that dressed up using black face as a type of initiation which has received international backlash.
- Wearing sacred artifacts as accessories
An example of this was during a Victoria Secret Fashion Show where Karlie Kloss wore a feathered headdress wanting it to look like a sexy Native American costume in lingerie. This was incredibly insensitive to Native Americans as a marginalized and oppressed community in America. This feathered headdress is originally worn for spiritual significance and only by those who have earned it in honour-worthy achievements in the Native American community. Because of this, music festivals have banned wearing this. Sorry Vanessa Hudgens and Lana Del Rey, no more feathered headresses at Coachella for you.
- Appropriation is not a substitute for lack of diversity
At Paris Fashion Week, a collection was brought out that was influenced by Africa. The problem with this was that white models were wearing cornrows, appropriating African culture. This begs the question- Why were black models with cornrows whose lives are rooted in African culture not used in the show?
- Cultures should be engaged with for more than just aesthetic
This is especially important during this time of #BlackLivesMatter. A question asked frequently during this time is- What would happen if we loved black people as much as we love black culture? Black rappers like Nicki Minaj are overlooked to Miley Cyrus because of their race when it comes to music awards. This is cherry picking certain elements of a culture, like white people enjoying the dances and clothing of black influencers, but keeping their white privilege.
- Give credit to cultural exchange
Collaborations are sometimes co-branded, but not all credit is given when it comes to culture. For example, using African influences, but not giving credit for the influences. Think of the Paris Fashion Week example or the Victoria Secret controversy above.
So, this is a reminder for when you plan a Halloween costume. Minority cultures are not for your amusement. Not for your Instagram posts, not for your aesthetic. This is wrong, this is racist. This needs to stop.