Opinion: Keeping It Respectful

Morena Silvestroni

Cultural Appropriation at Home and Abroad

Halloween tends to come with laughs and a couple of innocent scares, but some costumes can be offensive to certain cultures, religions and ethnicities.

One way cultural appropriation can manifest is wearing a specific culture’s attire that isn’t one’s own in an offensive matter or without addressing the fact that the clothing isn’t originally from one’s background.

Cultural appropriation has been happening for decades. From wearing costumes of indigenous people to blackface to sombreros from Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and more; it’s nothing new, but it’s not always recognized in other countries.

My Experience

After moving to the U.S. three years ago, I became familiar with the term.

In my home country, Argentina, cultural appropriation wasn’t a common topic and I didn’t understand it. What was wrong with wearing a certain piece of clothing or hairstyle I thought was beautiful?

Have I appropriated culture before? Probably.

After learning more about it, I started to accept and understand what cultural appropriation meant. I started acknowledging that it’s not about, say, wearing a piece of fabric, but about understanding what that fabric means in its own culture.

In an article on cowboysindians.com, Lois Sherr Dubin writes about understanding how each beaded earring in the Native American culture carries “personal and communal knowledge.”

Another example is the history of blackface and how it started with the discrimination of African-Americans in the Jim Crow era after the Civil War. America’s rap sheet against minorities is long.

However, I believe people should learn how to differentiate between appropriation and appreciation.

Accepting this new point of view needs to come with an explanation and the realization that wearing another culture’s attire can degrade that group. When people wear certain attire as a costume, it trivializes someone’s heritage as something fake or non-existent in the real world. It shows how commonplace cultural appropriation is in our society.

A Widespread Issue

People tend not to realize that cultural appropriation can be done by anyone, not just the white people we always seem to target — though people of European descent tend to appropriate more often. Luckily, there are many people realizing the harm this can cause when we really start thinking about it.

“At first I didn’t realize how much it could actually hurt other people,” said Hebron Y. Solomon, SCC student. However, after witnessing someone he knew in a costume of a famous African-American, Solomon became “skeptical” about the whole issue and began to understand it more.

Groups of all backgrounds have been guilty of appropriating cultures in the past, and that’s okay as long as they acknowledge it, become educated and don’t do it again.

Now, how can people avoid appropriation and learn to appreciate other cultures? The first step is to become more knowledgeable about the history of the people from all walks of life that we’re taking part in. We must acknowledge that the attire, whatever that may be, is not a part of our own culture.

With that in mind, I’m certain that everyone can all enjoy a fun Halloween night without making it uncomfortable for others or being disrespectful to other cultures.