Each year, people prepare to dress as their favorite superhero, historical figure or pop culture reference in celebration of Halloween.
For some students, however, problems arise when others decide to wear costumes based on caricatures of different cultures.
Jayla Coleman, senior in media studies, said cultural appropriation is best defined as using different cultures as a costume or persona — a joke.
“You can be a hippie without wearing an afro,” Coleman said.
James Kelly, senior in marketing, recalls seeing photos of students his freshman year dressed as professional tennis players Venus and Serena Williams — with black paint smeared on their face and body.
However, it is still possible to wear cultural clothing without being insensitive, Coleman said.
Both Coleman and Kelly used to term cultural appreciation as an appropriate alternative to cultural appropriation.
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It’s about understanding and acknowledging the culture and elements of the things you wear, Coleman said.
She said one of her friends, who is Nigerian, had an African ceremony for her wedding. Her white bridesmaids wore traditional African clothing, which Coleman said is a positive example of how to show cultural appreciation.
“This is appreciating her culture because you are honoring her history and her life, and you are not joking about it,” Coleman said. “You are wearing it with respect.”
To Coleman, this is similar to Kate Middleton, member of the British royal family, wearing traditional Pakistani clothing out of respect for their culture during a royal visit to the country.
When you make fun of a language or darken your skin for these costumes, that’s when it becomes a problem, Coleman said.
In Kelly’s opinion, there’s a lot of gray area on what is cultural appropriation and what isn’t, but it boils down to being respectful.
“If I was … a white person, and I wanted to be Serena Williams, I don’t necessarily have to paint my face black,” Kelly said.
Though he acknowledges that his perspective is different than that of a Native American, he said he thinks it would be okay to wear native clothing if the person is coming from a place of appreciation, not just trying to cry war chants while being unaware of that culture.
For characters like Black Panther or Mulan, who represent African and Asian culture respectively in American media, Coleman said she thinks it is a different situation and likens it more to cosplay.
While Black Panther pays very close attention to African culture, she said it just like other American superhero films. As long as people are darkening their skin for the costume, she doesn’t think it is cultural appropriation.
“[If someone is saying] ‘I’m doing this, I’m wearing this because I love the movie’ … I think that’s fine,” Kelly said.
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