opinion

“My culture is not a Halloween costume.”

The conversation around cultural sensitivity and cultural appropriation is indeed a divisive one. Whether or not adopting a cultural practice that is not technically your own is an indication of inclusivity or blatant racism, has been at the forefront of intense debate for quite some time.

With Halloween just around the corner, it’s all too easy to hit a nerve by dressing as something you might think is “harmless”. Unless it’s undeniably, objectively racist, regardless of inadvertence (I’m looking at you, 2013 Julianne Hough), the public is, more often than not, split in their responses to cultural appropriation.

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Not your finest moment, Jules. Image: Huffington Post

Those who express their pain are labelled “crybabies”, which frankly, gets us nowhere. An act of racism or cultural "theft", whether it be maliciously intended or not, has offended them and they’re merely asking to be heard. So, before you begin your frantic, last-minute quests for a costume that’s the perfect amount of scary and humorous, know this: Aligning any specific ethnicity with the idea of fear, or of dressing out of the ordinary, can be highly distasteful and insulting.

Teen Vogue has recently provided a voice for the cultures that feel demeaned by this holiday in an emotionally drenched video, and please – hear them out before you charge at a society that is becoming “far too sensitive”. Wouldn’t we prefer a sensitive society to a completely unresponsive one?

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“I didn’t spend 23 years as a Chinese born American to live next to this,” Emily Wong says while pointing to the figure standing beside her. This figure is dressed in red, her hair in a bun with 2 sticks stuck into it. This figure remains faceless, because this figure is exactly that. A faceless, inaccurate depiction of a culture that expands beyond a dainty Asian woman decorated with chopsticks in her hair and dragon print outerwear.

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“I didn’t spend 23 years as a Chinese born American to live next to this,” says Emily Wong. Image: Teen Vogue YouTube

This carbon copy version of Emily’s culture makes her feel like her cultural roots have been entirely butchered. Whether it’s been butchered or not isn’t up to the perpetrators and wearers of the costume to decide, it’s up to people like Emily.

20-year-old Valerie Reynolds is of Indigenous Caribbean descent, and condemns the continuous portrayal of her culture as “savage”, constantly dressed in wild fringe from head to toe. While we might mindlessly paint stripes on our faces and bodies in an attempt to recreate a look, in reality, we are undermining the significant meaning behind this ritual. Valerie feels her existence is for comical reasons only, where the meaning behind her cultural practices have been totally reduced to nothing. Someone should not be made to feel this way. Ever.

Gianna Collier-Pitts, aged 22, is African American. Her hair has been recreated in popular culture and by celebrities time and time again, while somehow simultaneously being labelled “untidy” and dirty by society. Although now, hairstyles like the afro and cornrows are viewed as "fashion", there is underrepresented discomfort and tribulation that African Americans have had to endure to maintain their hair, barely reflected in media portrayals whatsoever.

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There's more to a Hawaiian Hula skirt than you'll ever know or understand. Image: Teen Vogue YouTube

Hawaiian native, Cashman Aiu, aged 21, cries as she describes her grandmother’s reconnection with once banned native Hawaiian cultural practices, like Hula dancing. She was made to discard her passion years ago, and now, in a bid to reignite it, has been hand crafting her own Hula skirt for weeks. In the comments section of this video, Chashman is brutally mocked for her tears, but her experience is more unique than any of us could possibly understand. The raw transparency of her emotions is exact evidence that we are in no way entitled to judge what we are lucky enough not to have endured.

With a subject as sensitive as race, it’s safest to tread just as carefully in such risky waters. While you may not see the offensive qualities in wearing chopsticks in your hair, recognising that someone else might is a commendable act of consideration. This Halloween, have a think before you carelessly dress yourself for the occasion – it will mean more to someone than you know.

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