Appropriation versus admiration
Children dressing up as their favorite Disney character for Halloween out of respect shouldn’t be shamed
I was listening to the radio the other day, and Damon and Cory, the morning hosts of Country 92.5, were talking about the controversy that comes up every October about culturally appropriate Halloween costumes.
They were specifically discussing little girls dressing up as Moana, a Polynesian Disney princess. Both hosts argued that there is no harm in children dressing up as Moana. Their reasoning stemmed from the children just wanting to dress up as a young female figure they look up to and someone who serves as their role model.
The hosts sent a message to parents listening to their show that it’s okay to allow their children to dress up as Moana for Halloween, saying it’s harmless because of the fact that children want to be Moana because of her character, not to mock her culture.
But of course, there is another side to this argument. Some argue that dressing up as Moana, or any other character of another culture, is racially insensitive.
Quinnipiac University’s Department of Cultural and Global Engagement conducts an entire campaign related to cultural appropriation during Halloween on campus, titled “My Culture is Not a Costume.” It includes posters hung all around campus, aiming to raise awareness about cultural appropriation with the hopes of ending the trend of college students buying culturally insensitive costumes, like Native American costumes, Mexican costumes, geisha costumes and many others.
In doing research, one of the most commonly cited articles relating to this controversy, especially in relation to children’s Halloween costumes, is “Moana, Elsa and Halloween” written by Sachi Feris on raceconscious.org. Feris is a white mother with a white daughter. She tells a story of her daughter wanting to dress up as either Moana or Elsa from “Frozen” one year for Halloween. Feris had issues with both her daughter’s choices– she thought Elsa would reinforce white privilege and Moana would belittle Polynesian culture.
Feris wrote about what she told her daughter in her article.
“I don’t like the idea of dressing up using the same traditional clothing that someone from Moana’s culture may have worn because that feels like we are laughing at her culture by making it a costume,” Feris told her daughter. “A child whose family is Polynesian could dress up using that type of traditional clothing but Moana’s culture is not our culture.”
In another article written by Redbook editors titled “Maybe Don’t Dress Your Kid Up as Moana this Halloween?,” they argue teaching children at a young age about cultural appropriation can begin when deciding what to be for Halloween and say this time of year is an easy way to introduce this issue.
“There’s no better time than when a kid is in their formative years to teach them that it’s not OK to mock other people’s cultures,” Redbook editors wrote. “That’s the sort of attitude that will ultimately bleed into the way they behave and think as they get older — do they respect the personhood of those unlike themselves, or is their only concern doing whatever they think is fun?”
I would like to say that I wholeheartedly understand the motive behind the “My Culture is Not a Costume.” I do not agree with college students ignorantly dressing up as things like a Mexican person with a sombrero and a mustache or as a Native American person with a headdress. I do think that is appropriating cultures. I agree that adults can also be racially insensitive and do not agree with that age of people ignorantly dressing up either.
However, I do feel differently about the Moana situation. This is an example of a child dressing up as an actual movie character- not a stereotype. While I do think it’s important to teach children at a young age about respecting other cultures, their own and others’ included, I have a difficult time completely agreeing with the idea that a child dressing up as Moana for Halloween is cultural appropriation.
Here’s why: I agree with the radio hosts’ idea that most children want to dress up as a characters like Moana because of her character– because of who she is as a human being. I believe it is acceptable for children to dress up as a characters for Halloween, not a culture.
Laurel Niedospial wrote an opinion on popsugar.com titled “No, Dressing Up as Moana is Definitely not Cultural Appropriation.” She argues it shouldn’t matter whether or not a child’s ethnicity perfectly matches the character being portrayed as long as their costume is of an individual.
“If my insanely white child wants to dress up as Moana, that should be fine. Moana is a powerful, independent and fearless leader of her people,” Niedospial said. “Going as Moana for Halloween is about vocalizing a connection to an amazing character; it is not about trying to appropriate another culture.”
Niedospial does point out in her article that when people don’t dress up as characters or individuals, but when cultures are just shown as stereotypes, then that is not okay.
“A girl can dress up as Sacagawea, complete with a map, or look like her coin, but she should not dress up as a general Native American person,” Niedospial said. “Instead of honoring a specific person, this reduces a culture to stereotypical characterizations, thus homogenizing huge groups.”
I agree with Niedospial. If I had a daughter, I would not tell her she couldn’t be Moana for Halloween. I would be proud of her for seeing Moana as a strong young woman–an individual. I would be proud of her for fostering tolerance and acknowledging that people from all different cultures can all be admirable characters. If she appreciated Moana for her character and loved her because of it, I would want her to walk around trick-or-treating dressed as someone she admires. And if that is Moana, then okay.
I will continue to support Quinnipiac’s efforts of ending the trend of college students dressing up in culturally insensitive costumes with no respectful motive behind it because I stand behind that.
But when I see a little girl dressed up as Moana this Halloween, it will make me smile knowing how much she looks up to her.