These costumes don’t appropriate cultural heritage.

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Confronting the spectre of cultural appropriation

October 24, 2018
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Each year, Hallowe’en costumes run the gamut from dancing hippos to the Jolly Green Giant. But a significant number represent cultural stereotypes, such as hula dancers, sheiks, or Native American princesses.

SFU archaeology professor George Nicholas says Hallowe’en is a good time to throw a spotlight on the spectre of cultural appropriation—the practice of using an aspect of someone else’s cultural heritage inappropriately or without permission.

While Hallowe’en, he says, is essentially cultural anarchy, it is still an opportunity to discuss with children (and adults) why certain costumes might be inappropriate, and even offensive to some people or cultural groups.

He acknowledges, however, that it can be difficult to identify what constitutes a cultural costume, who has the right to wear it, or how offensive it might be.

“Is a Pocahontas costume more or less acceptable than a slasher?” he asks. “What if the child wearing it is a Native American? And Is it honorific, or rather horrific, to choose a costume based on a character from the recent Disney movie “Coco,” about the Mexican Day of the Dead?”

Read more about his insightful musings on cultural appropriation in Sapiens, Anthropology/Everything Human.