There's something about Halloween that makes people think they get a free pass to cherry-pick different parts of other cultures to play dress-up with. From celebrities who still don't get it (Ashley Tisdale
and Chris Hemsworth
, we expected better of you) to actual physical violence
erupting around offensive costumes, it's clear we need to have yet another
talk about cultural appropriation.
This issue has been kicking around pop culture for the better part of the last five years, thanks to social media and more opportunities for people of color to both witness and speak out when others rip off their heritage. Feigning innocence is no longer a viable excuse. (Apologizing after the fact doesn't count either.) At this point, it's fair to assume that most people who commit cultural appropriation are willfully ignorant and choose not to educate themselves on why it might be problematic.
Now, I consider myself a woke person. I know that appropriation and appreciation are not the same thing. I know that telling someone they can't "own" a hairstyle misses the whole damn point. I know that not understanding the significance of something just adds to the problem with you wearing that look. I know there is no such thing as reverse racism and only the disenfranchised have the right to speak up about cultural appropriation. I also know that I am Caucasian and do not have two legs to stand on in this debate.
As a commenter recently wrote on Facebook in answer to our piece on Kylie Jenner's do-rag
, "Here we go again with white folks telling us Black folks what we should be mad about." Bingo. This is where things get a bit uncomfortable: How do white people call out appropriation when they're the ones on the privileged side of the debate?
The first step is removing the word "racist" from the dialogue, says Susan Scafidi, founder and academic director at the Fashion Law Institute
at Fordham University Law School and author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law
. "I think we need to remember that these things come from two very different places," she explains. "Racism comes from a place of division and alleged superiority and fear and hatred, whereas cultural appropriation comes from a place of admiration — sometimes excessively inquisitive admiration, but admiration nonetheless."