To be honest, I’m not going to pretend to be the expert on cultural appropriation, but even I know dressing up in caricaturized “Native American” clothing for Halloween is offensive.
The term “cultural appropriation” has been defined, redefined and then re-redefined countless times in well-written and responsible publications. Just like culture itself, it is everywhere. This conversation is like beating a dead horse, and I realize that this article will not dissuade an edgy white girl from buying a geisha costume for Halloween if she is hell-bent on it. Instead, I’m hoping to appeal to those who have—like myself—been guilty of cultural appropriation, not fully realizing the extent of the offense but wanting to do better.
I feel like many people are scared of the words “cultural appropriation” and think that there is a converse effect in which, because it is talked about so much, no one really understands. Because there are so many definitions, each one is as useless in describing the complexities of cultural appropriation as the next.
So instead of telling you 1) What cultural appropriation™ means and 2) Ways to avoid it, I’ll direct you to people who can do it better. And who better to ask and learn from than the people whose culture is in question?
Is dressing up in caricaturized “Native American” clothing for Halloween offensive? Yes, Native Americans have expressly, clearly and articulately said.
Is wearing blackface offensive? Of course, black journalists have tried explaining this to us for years now.
Is it okay to dress up as “Asian” for Halloween? No. Asian writers have spoken out about this very issue.
Et cetera. The point I’m trying to make is, don’t listen to me when it comes to cultural appropriation. I do not pretend to adequately understand the nuances and complexities of a culture that isn’t mine and then determine independently for myself if what I am doing is wrong.
However, “if somebody of the people-group is telling you that it’s wrong, that should be enough for you.”