Many years ago, the popular trend was to portray favorite characters in costume for Halloween or other dress-up parties. For example, “PocaHOTTIE” is something that one may see wandering from bar to bar, two guys portraying Cheech and Chong or perhaps a woman strutting around as a geisha.
As of late, more people have been speaking out about how it’s seen as being racist and insensitive to people of those particular cultures others may impersonate.
Looking at the history involving the oppression of people of color, costumes of people in gang associated type of attire, and going as far as doing blackface, can definitely be seen as taking it too far. This is especially when blackface was a degrading form of entertainment in the early 20th century, which continued until the 1960s when the U.S. Civil Rights Movement took place.
Cultural appropriation and what it stands for almost embodies the tragic past that came with those affected by hard times due to their own race’s history.
Another example is when people dress up as a “cholo” or “chola,” with mustaches, slicked back hair, make-up with high, thin eyebrows, or even going as far as portraying the female as pregnant. Most of the time, everything is extremely exaggerated and pokes fun at people of Mexican culture, as if saying everyone from that culture is just like that.
In the Disney version of Pocahontas, it portrays a happier version of the tragic story where she continues to live freely. However, in the actual version, she was forced to marry an Englishman, and she died at the young age of 21. So, little girls all over the world are dressing up as a Native American princess without truly understanding the history behind it.
Perhaps, it isn’t something that they need to know or understand at such a young age, yet when is it the right time?
Though dressing up as another culture or race may be a form of flattery, it really can come off as being an ignorant person who does not understand the true history behind what someone’s ancestors have gone through.
One may even think that dressing up as a geisha in respect for Japanese culture is okay; however, geishas are seen as being submissive and sexual objects. Many women are mistaken and think that it means they are dressing up as powerful, beautiful women. The film “Memoirs of a Geisha” will show you otherwise.
A big scandal shook a sorority from Cal Sate Fullerton last year when they had a “Taco Tuesday” theme, but took it as far as dressing up in ponchos and sombreros. An investigation took place for Alpha Delta Phi, and they eventually went into probation and were unable to take new pledges for that fall semester.
The sorority released a public apology as reported in CSUF’s Daily Titan stating, “We are profoundly embarrassed about our naïveté and lack of judgment.”
On a bigger scale, cultural appropriation has even taken over the media due to a feud between Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus where Minaj accuses Cyrus for wanting to take part in the hip-hop culture without actually understanding the struggles it took for people of color to get there.
In an interview with the New York Times, Minaj directs a question to Miley: “You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important?”
In the United States, if not all over the world, the repercussion of cultural appropriation is ever growing. More and more activists are asking other people to be more sensitive to the history behind their particular attire, music and overall, the cultures of the minorities that have endured oppression.
No longer can people claim that they are imitating to perform an act of flattery. People passionate about diminishing cultural appropriation will continue to stand their ground and speak out to make a difference. This means, it’s time to be sensitive, and to educate ourselves about the real meaning behind cultural practices.