Dispelling myths regarding cultural appropriation

By in Opinions

With Halloween approaching, a local business has re-ignited the annual conversation about cultural appropriation, bringing it back into the public eye here in Saskatoon after an incident with a University of Saskatchewan student.

On Oct. 9, activist and U of S student Zoey Roy was escorted out of the Spirit Halloween 51st Street location for requesting the removal of the store’s “Native American” costumes, as they were appropriating Indigenous culture and perpetuating negative stereotypes.

cultural-appropriation-1
Did you know not all Halloween costumes need to be offensive? Its surprising, but true.

Although it is 2016 and it should be common sense by now as to why cultural appropriation is harmful, the topic still sparks debate in many communities, especially online. There also seems to be a great amount of misinformation and misconceptions about cultural appropriation out there, and I believe that dispelling these myths is the first step towards positive change.

The first myth that I would like to discuss is: “People are far too politically correct these days! What happened to freedom of expression?”

If this is how you feel about cultural appropriation, you misunderstand a few things about what freedom of expression means, and how “political correctness” really means “not being a huge douche.”

First of all, freedom of expression means that you are free to express yourself the way that you would like — with clothing, body modifications, art, etc. — without persecution from your government. This does not mean that you are immune from people calling you out when you’re doing something that is, quite frankly, problematic and shitty.

This is also means that your freedom of expression ends when it encroaches upon the rights of others. Although cultural appropriation is, at best, an annoying micro-aggression that just makes you look like you’re out of touch with the world around you, at its worst it can cause a lot of physical and emotional damage and can perpetuate oppression at a systemic level.

That reminds of me the next myth: “Cultural appropriation shouldn’t be an important issue right now! We have bigger things to worry about than hurting other people’s feelings.”

We need to remember that when we appropriate another culture, we’re not just hurting people of that culture’s feelings. We are stealing from their culture and more often than not, we are warping it into a stereotypical, bastardized version of what it used to be. This is not only incredibly disrespectful, but it can also be dangerous.

According to Ana Thomas of Medium.com, “Cultural appropriation is a non-issue for a majority that don’t understand its relationship to power. Many people, not all of them White, believe that cultural appropriation is unimportant. However, the history of physical battery and power couldn’t be sustained without mental battery as well. To not believe that a dismissive response to appropriation or groundless offence is not systemic and inherent in our culture, only continues to promote cognitive dissonance.”

The final myth that I will talk about is that cultural appropriation isn’t even real at all, and that it is, in fact, instead “cultural celebration.”

When a large majority of people from a specific cultural group say that something is appropriating, offensive, disrespectful or misrepresents their culture, it’s very important to take them seriously. When I hear this argument made in regards to Halloween costumes, it gets to be very frustrating. Joelie Dillon, an Indigenous woman and pre-medicine/pharmacy student at the U of S, agrees with me, as well.

“Cultural appropriation is definitely a problem within society, and does more harm than good because by choosing certain aspects of another culture to use or wear for your own benefit, you are dismissing the other parts of that group of people and could also be perpetuating wrongful stereotypes,” Dillon said.

We as adults need to do better and be a positive example for the children in our lives. There are thousands upon thousands of costumes out there. You don’t need to dress as a misrepresented version of another culture in order to have a good, spooky time. Do the right thing this Halloween, and don’t make a culture your costume.

Kay-Lynne Collier

Screenshot of Spirit Halloween’s website: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor