Be a Good Kind of Spooky: Culture vs Character

Cultural Appropriation

No, I’m not going to take up too much time discussing cultural appropriation with you right now. It’s been done by me, and so many others on campus and around the community for so long. There are articles, blog posts, books, YouTube videos, and our ultimate queen of all knowledge: Google.

During a recent workshop, I had a woman ask me about my thoughts on offensive costumes during Halloween season, and where do we draw the line between culture and character? Though everyone will have different feelings towards this topic, especially considering the fact that I am (obviously) not a part of every culture, what this conversation seemed to boil down to for everybody is the fact that it really isn’t difficult to choose a costume that isn’t racist, sexist, homophobic, or discriminatory in any other way. So no, I’m not going to take this time to bring you extensive knowledge on what cultural sensitivity is. Because quite frankly, you’re still not getting it. Instead, we’re going to talk about cultural insensitivity by giving you these three tips to keep in mind this Halloween. Now follow along, because I’ll only say this once.

Dressing up as characters outside of your race is not impossible

People often ask me if dressing up as their favourite character can be offensive? Well, of course it can, especially depending on who your favourite character is. But it can also be done without being insensitive or offensive. For example, if Fresh Prince of Bel Air is your absolute favourite show, and you – white – want to so badly dress up as the character of Will- black- then you can do that without being racist.

What makes up his character is not solely the colour of his skin, it is the very essence of his being; his clothes, his popular phrases, his dance moves. Find yourself some multi-coloured vests and a pair of Air Jordan’s and trust me, we’ll know. Painting your face Black in order to take it to the next level, might seem harmless to you, but the history of Blackface is a strong and violent one.

People’s lived experiences and identities are not meant for you to mock

The same person who asked me about cultural appropriation in the workshop, brought up an important point about culture vs costume. She, as a Chinese woman, said that she doesn’t tend to be upset if someone wants to dress up as Mulan for Halloween, but she does, however, find it problematic when people dress up as a Geisha. Why? Because those are real women’s real experiences, and many  don’t even know the history behind it. And that’s a point I always try to make; if you aren’t black but you want to dress up as a character who happens to be black, that could be fine. But just simply dressing up as a “black guy” does not count as a costume. When you use these kinds of costumes that use stereotypes of real people in order to mock and degrade their identities, that’s when you start to really step into being highly insensitive and offensive. We’ve seen it with race, but we’ve also seen it with sexual identities, gender, and so much more. Deciding to dress up as a character who happens to be Transgender is one thing, but just simply deciding to dress up as a Trans person does not count as a costume. It is ignorant, and shows your lack of consideration towards folks who live every day in these identities, and are marginalized for it. To feel entitled enough to use that for fun one day of the year is deeply troubling.  Because these are masks that we can’t take off.

Ask yourself “what inspired this costume?”

Take a minute to really think about what made you choose this costume. Why did you think it was funny? Why did you think it would be popular? What fueled you to want to wear it so bad? Halloween has always been my favourite holiday, and when I think of what inspires my costumes it’s the fact that I idolize a certain character, enjoy a certain musician, or thought it would be cute to dress up as a certain animal. If you are dressing up in costumes that are inspired by racism, homophobia, sexism, and bigotry, then what is it about you that encouraged you to put it on in the first place?

OPIRG Brock will be hosting a workshop on cultural appropriation on October 28 from 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. in Welch Hall 311.

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