October has started, which means Halloween is nearly upon us. That wonderful time of year when we dress up as zombies and witches and other such terrifying supernatural creatures.
Or at least, that’s what we do in theory. In practice, we have shifted away from scary costumes in recent years towards horrifically inappropriate costumes instead. Nowadays, instead up rocking up to a party as a ghost or ghoul or gremlin, you can rock up as a sexy mental patient, a sexy eating disorder, or a sexy Native American. Something tells me people are beginning to lose sight of the true spirit of Halloween.
Now I hope I don’t have to explain to you why sexy mental patient and sexy eating disorder are terrible costume ideas (for Halloween or any other occasion), but I’m willing to bet that there are a few of you who aren’t quite sure why ‘Native American’ falls into the’ horrifically inappropriate’ category.
The answer, dear reader, is cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is the act of one culture (in this case, whit Brits), adopting aspects of another (Native American dress). Now this might sound all fine and dandy – after all, doesn’t it suggest a willingness to learn about other cultures, fostering a system of tolerance and harmony? The short answer is no.
The problem with cultural appropriation is that the original purpose of the adopted customs are lost or not understood. Those who put on feathered headdresses as costumes don’t understand the significance of these headdresses to Native Americans. It’s reducing a highly symbolic thing into a fashion statement, erasing its original meaning and thus erasing the culture of real people.
Moreover, those who appropriate culture fail to recognise that the cultures they are borrowing from are often heavily oppressed. Native American women, for example, are more likely to experience domestic violence than women of other races by as much as 50%. Native American women are also 2.5 times more likely to be raped than women of other races; and 26% of Native Americans live in poverty, compared to just 10% of white Americans.
By reducing the culture of Native Americans, or any other oppressed race or minority, into a costume or a fashion trend, you are belittling the real-life experiences of these people. You are turning it into a plaything for the privileged. White people can take off their feathered headdresses, or their bindis, or their blackface; the oppressed never can. These cultures aren’t just imaginary, ambiguous things. They are real, living, breathing people. They are not costumes.
So when devising your costume for Halloween this year, steer clear from oppressed cultures. If you want something truly terrifying I suggest dressing up as a Men’s Rights Activist or a Donald Trump supporter.