There’s a phrase circulating around mainstream media that I must admit I’ve never heard of until recently: “cultural appropriation.”
According to Oxford Reference, the text book definition for cultural appropriation is “the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.”
You guys, that sounds really bad …
In short, they’re basically saying a white girl dressing up as an “Indian Princess” for Halloween (or any other reason) is not cool. And you know what? I get that. Even more so, I agree — to a point.
A 20-something who wants to dress up as a Native American to hit a party can pick a different costume. She is old enough to understand and to know better. At best, it’s insensitive. At worst, well, by donning a headdress and feathers, she’s essentially ridiculing and demeaning an entire culture’s traditions.
But a little girl who wants to dress up like Pocahontas because she’s read the story, seen the movie and admires her? I’m sorry, but I don’t see a problem with that. The same way I don’t see a problem with an African American girl dressing up like Cinderella or Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
Do skin tones have to match? I don’t think so, I don’t think it should matter. But that’s just me.
Right now, the most popular video in my house is Disney’s Moana.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a (vaguely) Polynesian girl who sets out to save her island with the help of a tattooed demi-god named Maui.
They befriend the ocean, they fight a ridiculous shiny crab in the “Realm of Monsters” and they evade these weird killer coconut things before confronting the evil lava-goddess, Te Ka.
I promise it’s a better movie than my description alludes to. I liked it. What’s more, my kids liked it. A lot.
There was a big stink a while ago that a Maui costume being sold online was a modern equivalent of “black face.” The costume itself was a body suit with foam muscles and painted on tattoos — it was also brown.
The argument was it was unacceptable for fair-skinned kids to dress up like a Pacific Islander, that it was — and here’s that word again — cultural appropriation.
And you know what? No. It’s not.
The costume was brown for a very simple reason: because Maui is not Caucasian.
I hate to state the obvious here, but wouldn’t it have been way worse if they had produced a fair skinned “Maui” costume for kids? Uh, yeah.
Others took the approach that the Maui and Moana costumes shouldn’t have been produced at all.
Again, really? Because I don’t see any outcry over the Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz costumes that are also sitting on the rack.
Surely you’re not suggesting we only make costumes out of characters played by white people?
The problem with this is adults are projecting percieved bad intentions and negative connotations on our most innocent — children.
Kids aren’t dressing up like Maui or Moana to make fun of their heritage and customs — they’re doing it because they love these characters and want to be like them.
I can’t believe I even live in a world where I have to say this, but my 5-year-old is not racist.
And neither is your’s.
Kasie Strickland is a staff writer for The Sentinel-Progress and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the newspaper’s opinion.