DISCLAIMER: This essay is not directed at any specific person or group, but states an argument of general observation. If you are personally offended by it, perhaps you see too much truth in my words.
I am not saying that being respectful of other cultures is not valuable; I certainly believe we should have some regard for cultural relativism and be respectful of different traditions, customs and beliefs. But, I think all of the “cultural appropriation” posts that resurface on Tumblr each October are ridiculous.
First of all, I find it terribly ironic that so many people get upset about specific types of costumes people wear on Halloween, without taking any time to analyze the origins or possible cultural appropriation within the holiday itself. To me, it seems that if your main concern was avoiding cultural appropriation as a whole, you would look into the larger picture of the event the custom is associated with as opposed to simply criticizing the custom. These posts seem to chastise the running nose instead of trying to treat the flu itself or prevent it with vaccines. What I mean by that is that complaining about a symptom of cultural appropriation, in reality, does nothing to address the issue of cultural appropriation itself. If the people who jump on the “reblog bandwagon” each Halloween actually cared enough to take action, they could make an actual change.
But, second of all, I don’t honestly believe that any “cultural appropriation” that takes place on Halloween, via costumes, is significantly harmful to anyone. As children, we all dressed up as things we enjoyed or admired. I honestly think that a little white boy in a Native American costume is cute and likely reflects a positive interest in their culture. And sure, some adults wear offensive costumes that make an off-color joke, but many of these are not “culturally appropriated”. Additionally, I don’t think that any “culturally appropriated” Halloween costume causes anyone significant harm. People dress up, for one night, for fun, and no one loses any rights or gets hurt by it. I honestly don’t feel this is significant enough to warrant all of the attention it gets each year.
The other problem I have with these posts is that many of the people who reblog and initiate these posts are guilty of a worse and more offensive type of cultural appropriation than the offending Halloween costumes, a phenomena I would like to call “subcultural appropriation”. What I mean by “subcultural appropriation” is the practice of people blindly copying the fashions associated with particular groups, such as goths or bohemians, without knowing anything about these groups or what they stand for. They assume that the clothes are all it takes to be a goth or a punk.
Specifically, I’m talking about those girls who listen to Evanescence and think that a leather jacket with spikes or dyed hair makes them “punk”; those girls who buy a feathered earring and think it makes them “bohemian” with out knowing where bohemian fashion came from and what the idea behind it is (I give a brief explanation: here) or the girls who start wearing all black and think it makes them a “goth”. Unlike the Halloween costumes these people get so upset about, they do these things everyday, seriously, not in jest, like a Halloween costume is meant to be taken; and they brag about them on the Internet, claiming to be something they are not.
Now this may not sound like a big deal, but to me, it is. These people promote the misconceptions about that exist about goths, punks and other groups and spread misinformation about them, which makes it hard for people wanting to learn about them or “get into” them to get accurate information. Now, I know that to many people goth or punk is no big deal… just some angsty teen phase or some crap like that; but I am a punk and to me, it is a big deal for people to see that it’s not about violence and chaos like so many people believe it is because of the misconceptions these “subcultural appropriators”, or in layman’s terms, posers, promote. I want punk to be seen as what it really is (I have written about that: here, here and here) and I want other groups, like goth, with historical basis’ to be seen for what they are too.
And really, it just pisses me off. I hate seeing people post photos of newly dyed or cut hair and captioning it “Now, I’m punk” or even just having that attitude about it. As I have written before, hair dye or a haircut cannot make anyone a punk, because punk is in the soul. For them, punk might be a costume they take off at night when they hang up their bad Hot Topic skirt; but for me, it is something under my skin that shows me more nakedly than if I am literally so. I feel these people who can take “punk” off have no right to share that title with me. I feel it is something earned by learning about what the group you want to be a part stands for, about its history. And I think that when people claim these labels without earning them, they marginalized the people who truly have earned them. Every girl with a feather earring calling herself “bohemian” marginalizes all of the cultures that inspired bohemian fashion. Every poser “goth” marginalizes the writers of the Gothic movement in literature. Every kid with dyed hair claiming it makes them “punk” marginalizes every real punk who had the shit beat out of them for their words. And this is wrong. Subcultural appropriation is more wrong than any Halloween costume. It needs to stop.