VOICES' HALLOWEEN CULTURAL APPROPRIATION PHOTO SERIES: "MY CULTURE IS NOT YOUR COSTUME"
In anticipation of Halloween, Voices’ “My Culture is Not Your Costume” photo series seeks to create space for people of color to reclaim their cultural traditions and garments in the face of the cultural appropriation and exploitation that often characterizes the upcoming holiday. Listen to the voices of several members of our community, as they bellow loudly and clearly: Our Cultures Are Not Your Costumes.
We recognize that the conversation about cultural appropriation and exploitation is relevant always and must not be limited to the month of October. Please continue to have these dialogues, to be respectful of sacred spaces, and to be sensitive to members of all cultures, identities, and backgrounds, all year long. If you have questions or need help exercising sensitivity when selecting a costume for Saturday’s festivities, please reach out to your Diversity Peer Advisor (DPA).
Julia Wakeford '19
Charlie Aprile '18
Aria Parikh '20
Soumba Traore '18
"I’m a Native American woman, a Mvskoke and Yuchi woman. I was dressed in regalia for the three different tribal traditions I was raised in at six months old. My ceremonies and regalia are central to my life.
My grandma always told me to be proud of my regalia, and that these are our finest clothes. I've noticed I hold myself a little taller and I'm a little prouder when I wear it. It's the truest performance of my soul, of my connection to my ancestors, to my love of my culture, and to my personal expression. Even the process of putting on my indian clothes feels ceremonial in itself.
But then cultural appropriation rears its head. To be honest, I'm really tired of talking about cultural appropriation. It seems obvious to me that you wouldn't trivialize another culture, another human who loves their community and traditions so deeply. If you need a reason, there's the tried and true fact that for generations, we weren't allowed to practice our religions and our children were stripped of their clothing, their hair chopped off, so I won’t tolerate the mockery that's made of us during Halloween or any other time. And I don't tolerate my dress turning into a sexualized caricature when 1 in 3 native women will be raped in their lifetime. I don't tolerate your Pocahontas or Sacajawea costume when I spent years being called these names as slurs."
"Dreadlocks mean a lot of different things to different people and cultures. Some wear their hair loc’d for their religion, others as a celebration of the aesthetic possibilities of kinky hair, others wear them for politics; some for all three reasons. I wear my hair locked in the tradition of those in the Diaspora who came before me, who in the spirit of anti-colonialism and liberation, locked their hair as symbolism of cultural resistance to the aesthetic norms of white supremacy.
Dreadlocks are either the product of personal commitment or social bonds: you’re spending hours, moisturizing, washing and twisting your own hair, or you've got someone who is taking the time to do it for you, someone who has taken pride in learning to twist hair.
We live in a society where everything commodified, and the likenesses of people like Bob Marley have been stripped of all meaning and used, consumed as an aspect of a bohemian aesthetic. That being said, the fake-dreadlock rasta hats don’t offend me.
Don’t get me wrong, those things offend my eyes—those of you I’ve seen wearing them look stupid. But they don’t offend me because they’re just symptoms of deeper and broader racist assumptions.
The only truths they reveal have to do with the wearer’s place in our society. The hat is an artifact of our time, of a culture of envy and historical lies. That culture is dangerous; it has killed, subjugated and dehumanized. The wearer of the rasta hat is participating in the tradition of blackface: clearly showing they perceive dreadlocks and blackness itself, as comical, absurd, the other against which they define themselves.
I’m not going to moralize about your responsibility not to wear fake dreads; just know that when you do wear them, those are the assumptions you’re operating under, and you look stupid."
“I remember the first time I wore a sari. I was four years old, and even then, I knew nothing would ever make me feel as beautiful and connected to my culture as draping those nine yards of fabric around myself.
Hindu goddesses are sacred to multitudes of people for many reasons—most obviously, that they are of religious significance. Despite not being a staunch Hindu, these goddesses to me symbolize a sense of female resilience, an endowment of virtue that made these women worth revering. I love that the Hindi word for strength, Shakti, comes from the name of a Hindu Goddess who symbolizes divine female creative energy.
To see Amazon selling a Halloween costume that makes a mockery out of my culture’s garments, while disrespecting figures of religious and social significance, felt degrading and insulting to me on so many different levels.”
“Both of my parents were born and raised in Mali. My dad first traveled to America in the 1980s and shortly thereafter, in the 1990s, my mom also traveled to New York. We lived in New York for quite some time, for about 10 years, and then we moved to Iowa. I remember one day my dad made a comment about a Hindu woman wearing traditional clothing from her culture, and said “I would like to see more Africans wearing their traditional clothing on a daily basis rather than just for special occasions or to stand out in a crowd”. From that point, I realized how important it was to represent our culture and our home.
To me, wearing African clothing gives me a sense of pride. It’s like visibly wearing my last name, giving me a connection to a culture I’m not immersed in on a regular basis. At events like baby showers, parties, and religious celebrations, where there are a collection of beautiful Malians wearing African print in different styles and colors, it’s a celebration—a celebration of us. It creates a space where we can be authentic to our beings. When I see people outside the culture wearing it, I am offended. It’s very disrespectful. But honestly, I’m not surprised. I am not startled to see people walking around with African print who aren’t of the culture because their culture is one that consistently and historically takes from my own. I’m not pressed about getting caught up in anger to the point where I want to throw hands. I am instead focused on getting to a point where you understand why what you are doing is inconsiderate and not acceptable.
I am grateful to have been born in America to African immigrants and to understand the connection that Black Americans have to West African culture. I hope that when Black Americans wear these clothes, they remember that they are doing so from a place of cultural appreciation that transcends the way in which white people disrespectfully wear African clothing. When Black Americans wear this clothing, they are connecting to something that was taken from them, while when white people wear this clothing, they are continuing an oppressive tradition of taking what is not, and never was, theirs. I think it’s important for Black Americans to connect to Africa and clothing is a way to do so. It is to my understanding that some Black Americans have internalized negative stereotypes of Continental Africans created by white supremacists. In that internalization, some Black Americans try to distance themselves from them in a way that creates prejudices against Africans living in America. To defeat white supremacy, we must first acknowledge the significance in connecting to the people, not just the culture.”