I Am Not Your Costume

Black face, cornrow & bandanas

Native Headdress, feather in hair & war paint

Sugar Skull Paint, sombreros & sarapes

Kimonos, geisha makeup & yellow faced samurais

We are real people, we carry real histories, we are not fictional characters or here for the entertainment of others. At the end of the day I cannot take my culture off, I am the embodied history I carry on my flesh.

I once walked into a party city when I was about 10 years old and did not understand why there were costumes that displayed white men dressed in sarapes, sombreros upon a donkey, beer in hand. (I’m sure you’ve seen these too, you know the ones they display on cinco de mayo also) I did not understand who would want to dress up like this until one of my classmates in high school dressed up in this way. Halloween fell on a school day that year and this boy came in with dirt on his face, serape sweater and a sign that read “Will Work for Tacos.” Which really threw me off because I am pretty sure what he was trying to display and what my peers laughed about at the sight of this. What hurts me the most about that instance now is that I didn’t have the vocabulary nor courage to speak on at the time, I just knew it was wrong. My friends told me to just ignore him, my high school teachers stayed silent. In my heart I knew that it wasn’t right, this is the image we are allowing to be recreated over and over again as a joke as entertainment.

Now that I'm in college and have been given the privilege to learn more on historical events and relationships I learn more and more about the ways American media has played a part in creating and enforcing these stereotypes. Every Halloween, Cinco De Mayo, and Coachella festival I see these Cultural appropriators get more and more away with this form of racism. “Cultural Appropriation” is the term used to explain the use of other cultures' traditions, food, fashion, symbols and language without permission. This is not limited to just those things but anything that embodies another’s culture that is NOT your own and claiming it in any way is part of this appropriation. Enforcing stereotypes is a form of racism, creating the image of “other” and allowing these ideas of people to continue to limit them from equal opportunities.

“It’s okay I have 5% Native American blood” DOES NOT give you the credit to dress as a sexy native princess or wear a headdress to the next EDM festival.

“It’s okay my boyfriend/bff is Black” DOES NOT give you the right to do black face and dress as Richard Sherman with a Seahawks jersey or crazy eyes from OITNB.

“It’s okay I grew up in the hood” DOES NOT give you the right to dress up as a Chola or Paint half of your face as sugar skull for your day of dead rave.

“I am showing how much I love your exotic culture” DOES NOT give you the right to wear a bindi, and a traditional Indian dress.

Halloween DOES NOT give y’all a free pass to be racist.

Kylie Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus are some of the celebrities who are known to have or continue to try to embody other people’s cultures and have made money off of appropriating others cultures. This is something that continues to happen over and over again, I hear from other people the narrative of “don’t be offended we all have the right to dress up however we want” “they don’t mean it that way” “it’s just for fun” “it’s just a joke” I believe in the freedom of expression and speech, but there is a difference. Until you have taken the time to study, learn the history behind the cultures you’re choosing to take from or understand the oppression that comes with these identities, that folxs cannot just simply decide to wake up and pick another costume to wear tomorrow, imma ask you to think twice about what you choose to dress up like this year. If you’re really that fascinated with our cultures then educate yourself on what we are about, give us space to speak, find ways to be better allies. We already know how great our cultures are, we don’t need you to dress up “like us”, speak up for us when folxs speak about us and we are not present, call out xenophobic people who don’t want us here, in that way you can show your appreciation. Jim Crow was real, Genocide of tribes happened, mainstream media’s goal of promoting/profiting of of the idea of the “other” is real, reinforcing stereotypes is real, white supremacy being upheld by stereotypes and the idea of “other” happens, these costumes carry all of these ideas with them.

So if you see your friend picking up any costume that resembles any culture other than the one y’all carry then let them know that it’s better to not be that one problematic friend who reinforces stereotypes and go for LITERALLY anything else.

Pictures:

IG @nitimueth

TUMBLR @tyleramato