BECA– USE I AM A GIRL says …
“We’re a culture, not a costume,” say the posters from the Students Teaching Against Racism club at Ohio University. Their poster campaig n is all about avoiding cultural appropriation when you’re planning your halloween costume.
I got to chat with Jaymee Goh over at Silver Goggles to unpack what makes a halloween costume appropriate or not when it comes to racism and sexism. Her blog is all about tackling racism, sexism and colonialism in steampunk.
KJ: What is steampunk?
Steampunk is many things, depending on who you talk to: a subculture, a genre of music or literature, a community, a style. I say steampunk as an aesthetic of many elements, combining retrofuturism, technofantasy, alternate history, and evocation of a past era, usually the 19th century.
KJ: In your blog, you try to promote racial diversity within steampunk. How and how come?
In 2009, there was an Internet blowup in science fiction and fantasy (SFF) fandom, called RaceFail. SFF tends to have this weird idea that race doesn’t matter, because it’s “just fiction” or “so far in the future” that the real-world dynamics of racism has no effect. However, whenever someone produces a work of fiction, their experiences, knowledge and perspectives will inform the story. The dynamics of who tells whose story, how events are interpreted, who is the hero or villain, are all reflective of mainstream society, which remains dominated by a perception that straight white men are the most important kind of people.
It’s even more important in steampunk because we draw so much inspiration from history, and history is written from very specific perspectives. Recorded and popular history paints mostly white men as being the most important players in history, when it is simply not so. In my work, I encourage people to think of other ways to tell the same stories, and encourage people who don’t see themselves in mass media to write stories that star them, their experiences, and the histories of their peoples.
KJ: What is cultural appropriation?
Lots has been written about it. There’s a very useful zine available that explains the concept, which I will use here:
“Cultural appropriation is the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another. It generally is applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to the appropriating culture. This “appropriation” often occurs without any real understanding of why the original culture took part in these activities or the meanings behind these activities, often converting culturally significant artifacts, practices, and beliefs into “meaningless” pop-culture or giving them a significance that is completely different/less nuanced than they would originally have had.”
KJ: Why is it important to think about these issues, especially at Halloween?
Although we like to pretend otherwise, we continue to live in a racist world that devalues people of colour. Seeing caricatures of ourselves adds to centuries of harm done to us and our peoples that continue unchecked today. It isn’t that it’s offensive; it’s that it’s harmful. Seeing racist stereotypes or racial caricatures of ourselves on display during Halloween (or any time of the year) is an indicator that our cultures and selves are not worthy of respect, and feeds into a culture that assumes everybody is the same, or should be.
KJ: Can you give some advice on how to avoid being racist or sexist when choosing a costume this halloween?
The rule of thumb is this: “Is this costume based on a racial / sexist stereotype or caricature?” If yes, don’t do it. “Is it a costume you can just put on and take off with no consequences on the rest of your life?” If so, do it. Nobody escapes being what we are, and we constantly face judgement for this. Don’t treat our identity or our troubles as a joke or something cute to wear for Halloween.
Hey readers, tell us what you’re wearing this Halloween!
(photo credit: Evan Krell)
Halloween: ‘How to Avoid Racist and Sexist Costumes’
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