When is a Native American costume just a Halloween costume? When is dressing up as Moana simply pretending to be a Disney character? Where is the fine line between celebrating an American holiday and appropriating a culture? In the current political climate, there seems to be an ethical dilemma about wearing the traditional attire of indigenous people.
“There's a big deal made over the clothing. We took over their land, and this is something else we are disrespecting,” said Kathryn Dee, a senior anthropology major. Dee’s stepfather is Native American, and being exposed to the culture helped her understand how sacred it truly is.
So, is it only the oppressed that can be appropriated? If a Native American chose to wear Patagonia shorts and Sigma Alpha Epsilon hoodie, would they be appropriating fraternity culture? These are some of the questions that were brought up in the Hofstra anthropology club’s yearly discussion about appropriating costumes. The members were in agreement that although progress has been made, we are not at a place where the sins of our ancestors are yet forgiven.
“Intent has a lot to do with it,” said Eiryn Sheades, a junior anthropology major and president of the anthropology club.
Alexander Slovensky, a freshman history and anthropology major, said, “We are in a new generation now. We need to move forward.” To this Dee raised the point that, “America is still a baby,” and that although this nation is seen as a superpower, it is still one of the newest civilizations and we still have a long way to go. Dressing up as a “sexy Indian girl” can strike a nerve when Christopher Columbus still has a day dedicated to him, Henry Ford is glorified, Thomas Jefferson gets a statue and the “Trail of Tears” is a three-page unit in elementary school history class. Although these people might have done great things, such as help build a democracy that gives us the ability to discuss these issues freely, Dee feels the dialogue still needs to change. We need to get to a place where we recognize that the things done to colonized nations were wrong and the ends do not justify the means.
We live in a generation where social justice is no longer the battle of those being afflicted, but a human issue that inspires everyone to fight. Halloween was once a harmless holiday we celebrated, but as young adults in a diverse and seemingly inclusive university, we should be mindful of whose culture we might be disrespecting.
Sheades feels educating ourselves about the meaning behind these costumes and deciding to dress up as someone for who they are, instead of to “look cool” can make a huge difference. These small changes in behavior go a long way in healing the hearts of peoples who have never been granted validation.
Dee’s final words were “Get creative!” Halloween might be one day of the year, but we can’t forget that some of the cultures we risk disrespecting have been fighting for hundreds of years to reclaim the traditions their nation-state stripped them of.