Adults and children love Halloween. The magic of dressing up to be a kid again, becoming who you want to be for a day, the carving of jack-o-lanterns, the degustation of your candy and chocolate loot, the parades, the decorated houses, the fun with your friends. However, Halloween has also become a display of, oftentimes distasteful, cultural appropriation, to the dismay of the members of said culture. In this article, I want to explain why cultural costumes are not okay and what you can do to prevent and address this issue in your household, school and community.
Part of creating a JEDI community and being a JEDI parent and kid is making sure racially, ethnically and culturally based costumes are not part of your choices.
But what is Halloween?
Halloween has not always been this Trick-or-Treat and disguise event celebrated on October 31st. Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) approximately 2,000 years ago, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. Then, in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as a time to honor all saints and soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating treats.
Then, what’s the issue?
Plain and simple, cultures should not be costumes, especially when the bearer of the costume has little to no understanding of the culture and what his costume represents.
The concept of cultural appropriation has been thrown around for many years. If you are not sure what it means, you are not alone. Here is a simple way to think about it:
Cultural appreciation is when someone intentionally seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspectives and connect with others cross-culturally. Cultural appropriation on the other hand, is simply taking one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it for your own personal interest. In the broadest sense cultural appropriation is the adoption or taking of specific elements (such as ideas, symbols, artifacts, images, art, rituals, icons, behavior, music, styles) of one culture by another culture. Cultural appropriation is rooted in colonialism, where colonialists looted and stole cultural artefacts and individuals. Nowadays, Cultural appropriation can take many forms and is present across industries, from music festivals (where performers and or participants will sometimes wear traditional outfits belonging to Indigenous’ culture) to fashion.
The debate of cultural appropriation vs appreciation can be nuanced but to determine on which end of the spectrum you stand, ask yourself: do you have an understanding of the culture? Do you understand the meaning of the sacred items you may be wearing or exhibiting? Are you respecting the culture or ripping it off? What about this item or costume makes it necessary for Halloween? An important aspect of determining cultural appropriation is when borrowing becomes exploitation, no matter how little it is, and it starts with what we show our children.
It starts with us understanding why cultural appropriation can be an issue for so many marginalized communities in Western societies. If you’re going to bring aspects of a certain culture into your life, it’s crucial to understand how they got there aka the historical context.
Too often than not, good intentions are the starting point with a genuine appreciation, which then turns into appropriation. Cultural appropriation is hurtful to those whose culture is stolen, especially given the historic mistreatment of so many communities, which is still prevalent today.
Now it does not mean one cannot learn and appreciate other’s cultures. On the contrary, sharing and being part of each other’s cultures is an amazing and healthy way for society to learn how to co-exist and be with one another. But this can only happen when we do so with respect for the cultural contributions that so many Black, Indigenous, Asian, just to name a few, communities have and continue to offer, or when we want to understand the issues currently plaguing these communities within our societies. It is time we all do the work.
Now, you may ask yourself, “great, but what can you do?”. Here are 4 ways you can ensure you set yourself up for success for a JEDI Halloween and overall better JEDI practices!
1. Do your Research on different cultures but most importantly the cultures most often appropriated during Halloween such as Indigenous, Black, Indian, Asian cultures for example
Learn about these cultures and what they faced historically. Learn about the Indigenous culture genocide, the enslavement of Black bodies, the Japanese internment camps etc.. and the roles of Canada and the US. Learn how to be a JEDI parent in practice and in thoughts by reading, watching and listening to testimonials around the impact of cultural appropriation and racism (the podcasts Colour Code and The Secret Life of Canada, along with the books 21 things you should know about the Indian Act and How to be AntiRacist are good places to start!).
2. Reflect on your role in this issue
Think about how your family can be prevent and be proactive around cultural appropriation. Just because some people are not offended by a racially or ethnically based costume, it doesn’t mean nobody is. Raising JEDI kids and humans means to not ignore harm when it is present; instead encourage curiosity, asking questions, and understanding another perspective fully, without shame.
3. Discuss with your loved ones
Talk with your family about cultural appropriation, racism and discrimination and discuss what kind of creative costumes you can make or purchase that will avoid cultural appropriation and still feel fun and respectful to wear for all! The Maori or Indigenous garments or wearing Blackface are not the only ways to have fun during Halloween.
4. Act with intention, kindness and empathy
Stop cultural appropriation when you see it by committing to antiracist and JEDI practices in your home, school, work or community gatherings. Appreciating cultures, not appropriating them takes time, practice, humility and openness. You can find many other ways to show your appreciation for cultures that do not involve borrowing another person’s heritage or special cultural garments for a day of dress up.
Building a JEDI world includes all of us taking action in our homes, schools, daycares, communities, families, gyms… Let’s not get entangled in the sticky web of racism and distasteful costumes this Halloween and show the JEDI way to our children!
If you want to explore what they may look like for you, book a one-on-one call with Julie by contacting her here