Fancy Dress And Cultural Appropriation

I’ve done this subject a few times, so didn’t want to spend too much time on it.  However, a blogger in New York has caused a bit of a stir by heavily vetting what or whom her daughter is allowed to dress up as for Halloween.

TL:DR, Blogger didn’t let white 5 year old daughter dress up as a white Disney princess Elsa because that would promote privilege, but wouldn’t let daughter dress up as a black Disney princess Moana because that would be cultural appropriation.

(The Telegraph have also suggested that, alongside Harvey Weinstein and the Ku Klux Klan, Moana’s is also a costume to avoid.)

There are some other points.  The blogger thought that Frozen was entirely made up and not based at all on anything real, hence it would be OK for a black kid to dress up as Elsa without the cultural appropriation.  However, the characters in Frozen are based on Scandinavian culture and Elsa’s character was inspired the Danish folktale “The Snow Queen”, which itself drew from old Norse mythology.  And obviously shape-shifting body builders, fire-goddess islands, sentient ocean water, and giant crabs that covered themselves in gold and sang David Bowie songs are all “real”.

The blogger told her daughter that Elsa having blonde hair and blue eyes and white skin sends a message that you have to be beautiful and white to be a princess which is something that shouldn’t be exacerbated. But not letting her dress up as Moana is surely sending the message that she will never be a princess, can never be a princess by virtue of “privilege”?

Halloween itself is a cultural appropriation from the Day of the Dead in Mexico and Celtic tradition.  All this coming from an American is a little hypocritical.

The blogger, Sachi Feris, makes some good points.  All the way through the article, there is a theme of learning and respecting and that’s great.  I completely get it.  Teaching her daughter about other cultures while playing and dressing up sounds brilliant.

But another theme is constant messages of “no” to her daughter.  Feris makes comments like, “my daughter agreed”.  Obviously I’m sat here thousands of miles away, but I wonder of the daughter just got exasperated with always hearing that she can’t despite her privilege.

However, this is my main point and I realise this is only my own opinion as a non-parent and, probably more importantly to some, a white male.  Whenever I see stories like this, it feels like perpetuating an issue.  The article doesn’t make it clear why Feris’ daughter wanted to dress as Moana.  I’m guessing it’s that she liked the character or the clothes, and not because Moana is black.  I wonder whether she even saw the race.

I have no doubt that some people dress up to offend and that’s wrong, but I doubt that’s the case here.

Perhaps one option should be to dress up as vampires (as long as you’re Romanian) or Frankenstein (as long as you’re German).  Or we could just relax.

I’m genuinely interested in what other people think about this, if anyone feels it worth commenting below.  If I were playing Devil’s Advocate with myself, I’d say that I’m being naive  because kids won’t keep that innocence for life, so they need to understand the bigger picture.  I’d also say that it’s not up me to determine how other people feel, but that can be said to anyone in this discussion.  What do you think?

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