Halloween is around the corner and people are already planning their outfits for the occasion. This is a great time to dress up and be whatever or whoever you like (within reason).
Unfortunately, this kind of freedom of style can lead to mistakes like cultural appropriation. According to TeenVogue.com, the fashion house, Fashion Nova, has launched a range of geisha costumes for Halloween.
In the article, Mekita Rivas explains that the Western perception of Japanese geishas has been tainted by the misunderstanding of what geishas are, and therefore the selling and wearing of these costumes is an act of cultural appropriation. "American soldiers stationed in Japan helped cause a mass misunderstanding of the traditional roles that geishas fill, ultimately contributing to the creation of the myth that geishas were sex workers," Mekita writes.
"In the time since, geishas continue to be exoticised and misunderstood by Western culture, especially around Halloween. Wearing these costumes perpetuates the misguided belief about what the tradition means."
READ MORE: Kimonos: Appreciation or appropriation?
The topic of cultural appropriation is a heated one, and often the lines between admiring a particular component of a culture, and appropriating it are quite blurred. Based on Michael Morris' definition, as reported by Marisa Crous, cultural appropriation "is often regarded as 'misappropriation', or distortion, desecration or even theft of ideas, symbols, artifacts or other aspects of culture, usually by a 'dominant' culture."
Although Halloween isn't an official South African holiday, many of us will be dressed in our scariest (or sexiest) for the occasion. It's easy for anyone to mistake a cultural component of a particular group of people for a good costume theme, so we're offering some cultural appropriation no nos that you need to keep in mind before making your next costume choice.
Taking something from a culture that's only fashionable when you're rocking it
The issue that many people have with someone else 'stealing' from their culture is that they are not doing it out of genuine admiration for the culture and its people. A number of celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Kim Kardashian have received backlash for appropriating black culture with their choice of hairstyles (cornrows and dreadlocks).
The issue here is not that they're rocking the hairdo, but that they're doing so without being subjected to the same ridicule and disapproval that black people received prior to the styles being 'fashionable' and 'cool'.
Taking from a culture to make fun of it
A distasteful and blatantly racist example of this is the two students who wore blackface at a housewarming party at Stellenbosch University. Blackface is never okay. If you're dressing up to make fun of a people, rather stay home in your pyjamas.
Taking from a culture when you don't understand it
You can't wear something meaningful from a certain culture without knowing the history behind it and the conventions attached to it. Well, you can - you're free to, absolutely - but you shouldn't.
It's not only disrespectful to the culture, but it also devalues what that the attire or artifact means to its people. For instance, if you're going to dress like a Zulu maiden, you should at least be woke enough to read up on how and why Zulu maidens dress before you wear the same thing.
The best bet is that if you're not sure whether or not you're appropriating another culture, rather skip that idea entirely, put on some animal ears, and call it a day.
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