So, I am sure you have heard of a phenomenon called cultural commodification, which essentially is placing a price tag on elements of a people's culture reducing said element to something "cool" without any recognition of its significance and meaning for the people group to which it belongs. One recent example of this is the "Native" wear line of Urban Outfitters just a couple years ago. (Go ahead google it.) Now, Urban Outfitters is not the first (nor will they be the last) to participate in cultural commodification. Hence this post!
There is one day of the year, when many of our friends and loved ones believe they have permission to participate in cultural commodification, one day when the idea of respect gets suspended, and cultural commodification seems not only fun but funny. That one day, is coming upon us- halloween. Right now, there are families all over the country deciding what to be for halloween, and for those who would rather not offend, I want to offer a few tips:
Tip 1. No black face. Period. Ever. Not okay. If there is even one person of color that you love or admire, just don't do this. I cannot begin to explain the level of distaste you are exhibiting or the level of disrespect you are imparting when you do this. Just say no.
Tip 2. Imitate achievement, not race. If you want to dress as President Barack Obama, I'm good with that. Put on a suit, wear a campaign button, do the fist bump with your "Michelle", carry the seal of the President to the party. Get creative, but stay away from imitating his color (see Tip 1). Same goes for other cultures, friends. No changing the shape of your eyes with tape, wearing a wig that represents another people's hair type, or speaking in broken English. (I mean seriously, what did you sound like when you first learned another language? Do you know another language?) Focus on the achievement! Ask yourself, "Would whomever I'm trying to represent be honored or horrified by this costume?"
Tip 3. Stay away from First Nations (Native American) wear, please. Hasn't dominant culture taken enough? Lets stop trying to claim a culture that has been so disrespected and under-appreciated. If you have the urge to participate in First Nation culture, do so with a clear invitation. Make arrangements to attend a pow-wow, reservation, or lecture on First Nation history. No one is saying you cant participate in the culture, but lets do so on their terms, shall we? So, no moccasins, headdresses, tomahawks, feathers, etc. Additionally, can we agree not to be a "sexy" Pocahontas? Let's read about her life instead.
Tip 4. Yes, your child can dress up like someone of a different race. Friends, minorities have been doing this for decades- think batman, superman and most pre-2000 disney princesses. But what you haven't seen are minorities wearing "white face" or making fun of dominant culture. Parents, I refer you back to Tip 2... focus on achievement. If your child wants to be Gabby Douglas, get a gymnast leotard and some chalk! If your child is still obsessed with Jeremy Lin, sounds like a basketball uniform is in order. Get creative, and don't be afraid to weave the role model's name into the outfit, just in case your child is concerned no one will get it!
Tip 5. Uplift, rather than demean. Go with people you actually admire. Leave the gross costumes alone- terrorist, "illegal alien," nazi soldier, geishas, gypsies, thugs and red necks. If there is something you would like to say about any of the above, get a pen and use your words, but don't try to make a point by using a costume. Uplift instead. Who do you love? Who do you admire? Go with that.
May we all leave our parties happy rather than deeply offended. Happy Halloween.
Please feel free to add more tips in the comments!