NDNs at UBC: Cultural appropriation

Every year when Halloween rolls around, the BIPOC population and I fear seeing our respective cultures worn as costumes. Outside of this annual occurrence, costume parties and trends cause arguments: is it appropriation or appreciation?

Recently I visited the dollar store in University Village with a friend, and I came across a costume in the toy aisle. I was just looking at the various knickknacks when I came across ‘Native American” costume accessories. I was beyond offended, seeing items such as the “Native American Choker” and “Native American Peace Pipe.”

['auto'] Julianna Yue

The items in question came from Forum Novelties Inc, a store featuring a variety of costumes and party supplies. Many such costumes appropriate different cultures, from “Asian Style and Ninja,” to “Desert Prince & Princess,” to “Egyptian,” to “Native American” and many more.

Why is cultural appropriation so hard for folks to understand?

There’s a thin line between appreciation and appropriation, yet celebrity and influencer figures tend to overstep these bounds in an attempt to gain more popularity or follow the latest trend. Recently this has included non-Black celebrities donning traditional hairstyles, and ‘the sexy fox eye look’ which fetishizes Asian eyes.

Appropriation is the inappropriate adoption of cultural elements and identity by folks not belonging to that culture or identity. This allows people to take the ‘good’ aspects of a culture to use for personal interest. Many times, this disproportionately affects minority cultures.

Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, seeks to understand cultures outside of one’s own. It reaches beyond personal uses and seeks to broaden individual perspectives. This also acts to connect different cultures.

Seeing this in action on campus, in a store that I’ve shopped at multiple times, was jarring. Seeing my culture exploited and produced for economic gain made me angry, once again making me question why people think it’s okay to dress up as a race or culture. This practice is indicative of a wider pattern of casual racist ignorance, and it must be made clear that this is unacceptable.

Is it really that difficult to choose a costume without offending anyone? Perhaps wear a banana costume or a cow onesie to your next costume party – but please, please, please – keep that ‘Native’, ‘Asian’, or any other race-based costume at home.

NDNs at UBC is an open-form column written by Indigenous UBC students. If you’re interested in getting involved, submit pitches or completed articles to opinion@ubyssey.ca!