With Halloween in the near future, Honors for Diversity (H4D) held their annual installment of My Culture’s Not a Costume to discuss cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes and teach students to be mindful and respectful instead.
H4D kicked-off the lecture with a video by “Teen Vogue” called “My Culture Is NOT A Costume,” which had six college-aged women talk about how certain costumes offend them and their families. People generally don’t realize their costumes are cultural appropriation, but the truth is they are playing dress up in a culture that has thousands of years of history and struggle.
“I see a lot of times from music festivals, they usually appropriate Native American culture and they just think it’s cool and it’s fun, but it actually has a lot of meaning to people who are Native American,” Betsy Philip, a third-semester physiology and neurobiology major, said. “And it has a lot of history of oppression behind that, things like that, so what Native Americans can’t be proud of, other people can kind of take ownership of and they turn it kind of into a mockery of what it actually is.”
One person at the lecture said people can put on the costume of a certain culture for one night and never wear it again, individuals with the actual heritage cannot do that. It is who they are. Another person explained her family gets upset when their Irish culture is appropriated on St. Patrick’s Day. The symbols and dress mean something to her family, but are appropriated as an excuse to drink.
H4D asked everyone to define different words, starting with “culture.” People said culture is a part of a heritage or society that determines what clothes to wear, holidays to celebrate, food to eat, music to listen to, family structure, language, body art, hairstyle, etc. Participants then defined “costume” as something out of the ordinary to you you dress up as because you like it visually and that you can take off afterward. They defined “cultural appropriation” as something you wear for your own benefit, without permission and that perpetuates stereotypes. On the flip side of this, they also defined cultural appreciation as trying to learn from and understand a culture to teach it to others.
“I really liked hearing other people’s perspectives on this,” Shaharia Ferdus, a third-semester molecular and cell biology major, said. “Being from a minority group, I already had my own thoughts about this, but from people in the majority group, it was nice to hear what they also thought about it.”
The presenters showed different examples of costumes and had the audience determine whether or not they demonstrate appropriation or appreciation. By doing so, attendees of the lecture learned how to avoid appropriating costumes and when to inform someone they are appropriating another person’s culture.
“My greatest takeaway from this event is probably understanding how something that you might not think is offensive to other people is actually really offensive,” Betsy Philip, a third-semester physiology and neurobiology major, said. “A lot of times people culturally appropriate without the intention to harm anybody and they don’t really realize when they’re actually doing it.”
Rebecca Maher is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.