Politica –  Were the witches & goblins offended on Halloween?

Cultural appropriation seems to be a growing issue and buzzword in diversity and intercultural work. I was reminded of this today by the blog of a colleague which featured commentary about a celebrity couple in the USA who came to a masquerade party dressed as a pilgrim and an Indian (Native American), causing significant uproar and humble apology for the colonialism and genocide that their personification represented. Current study on Christopher Columbus accuses him of enormous criminality, reminding us that all too many of our national heroes have had clay feet. If the truth be known...

I guess I have to confess my sins of playing cowboys and Indians when I was five or six years old with my cousin Artie (we took turns with the roles). Nonetheless, it raises the issue of where inappropriate appropriation occurs, and I haven't seen anyone establish any clear guidelines about this gnarly business. The Cleveland Indians baseball team just lost the World Series to a pack of bitty bears from Chicago – was this divine punishment for the personification of their mascot logo, Chief Wahoo? Their logo has been criticized as offensive for many years now, but, defended by fans, persists on their uniforms. Do I dare dress is a leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day, given my Eastern European forebears? (Image below) And then, of course there is Mardi Gras...

Last year at Oberlin College there were student protests over the fact that the cafeteria service was producing inauthentic national and regional dishes. Maybe this was just an expression of the common student complaint about the quality of dining hall food, but it was squarely positioned as a cultural offense. Lots of friends love slurping my laksa and my ajo blanco, but are they offensive to Singaporeans and residents of the Costa Azul?

Given the Charlie Hebdo uproar, we are aware of the sensitivity to representations of the "other" and even to ourselves when represented stereotypically, so this issue, while it might have a particular flavor in US history, is not exclusive to that country. I have long been of the mind of that jokes and ethnic ribaldry could be good-natured and starting points for more authentic exploration of our identities and values, as long as they did not evoke a putdown or raise memories of a painful past. There is also the matter of whether they are told with affection or in spite, and whether we tell them about and among ourselves or get them from cartoonists and nightclub acts were a certain license is seemingly allowed.

There is also psychological evidence that costuming, role-play, etc. can be vehicles to personal and social growth, but where are the guidelines? I suspect purpose, intention, and context are all critical in this regard. I would certainly like to hear others' opinions.


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