How to Not Culturally Appropriate on Halloween
A friend of a friend is having a dilemma. She loves Halloween. It’s her favourite holiday. And this year, she wants to celebrate by dressing up like her favourite celebrity: Nicki Minaj.
For context: she loves Nicki, has seen her in concert many, many times, worships her aesthetic, can stumble her way through most of her trickier verses. She’s procured the fake nails, the blonde centre-parted wig, and, bless her, a padded ass.
You know where I’m going with this, of course. She’s white. A well-meaning white girl, living in a small town, wanting to venerate her favourite artist. “But it’s a gesture of respect,” she says. “But I’m her biggest fan,” she says. “It’s appreciation, not appropriation.”
You’d think we’d be past this, and yet. As Nicki herself told the New York Times about the seemingly unchecked practice of cultural appropriation — including many white artists who continue to cop her own looks, fashion, and mannerisms — “Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle… then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us.”
Cultural appropriation is a power play. It’s members of the dominant culture cherry-picking elements of a marginalized culture to use as playthings, without an understanding of their true value, while continuing the systemic oppression of that group. And rarely is it more prevalent than on Halloween, when every white chick with a Navajo bedspread from Urban Outfitters gets it into her head to craft herself a feather headdress and show up to the kegger doing her best impression of Pocahontas. Many people still feel that this holiday gives everyone carte blanche to amass as many facepalm moments as possible, from the merely misguided to the downright offensive and cruel.
So as we count down the pumpkin spice lattes between us and All Hallows, let’s go over it again: here’s how not to be a culturally-appropriating asshole this Halloween.
“I got my hair braided when I was 10 at Club Med in Cancun and all of my friends were super jealous. That’s basically cultural heritage, right?”
Incorrect, wrong, “birthday braids” are not a thing, please do not attempt to harangue your hair into a style created by women of colour (who are still routinely denied professional opportunities because of their natural hair).
“I watched Lion on three separate flights and cried really hard every single time!”
Me too! Dev Patel is very hot! Did you know a bindi is worn to denote a sacred connection from your third eye chakra to the all-encompassing universe and that there are more than 80 ways to drape a sari? Nope? THEN MOVE ALONG.
“My yoga studio is basically my second home, and my teacher tells me that I have the best sarvangasana in the whole class.”
And my savasana is unparalleled, but that does not mean I’m going to paint my body blue to try and rep a Hindu goddess.
“I took a sushi making class and really got into it and also did you know “egg” is “tamago” in Japanese?”
And I am sure your kappa maki is *Italian chef kiss*, but you still need to chill with the pointed eyeliner and white face paint. Katy Perry tried the sexy geisha thing at the 2013 AMAs, and it did not go well for her, either. You know what you can do? Dress your dog up like a sushi roll. Everyone loves a sushi pug.
Halloween is about getting weird and wild and a little unhinged. It’s about making friends through the harmless exchange of candy. There’s a better idea lurking just behind the one that has the potential to insult, hurt, or marginalize, I promise you. Still searching? We have you covered.
Here are some super simple Halloween costumes that don’t involve being a culturally insensitive jerk: