It’s been unseasonably warm this week, but all the other signs of autumn have been in full effect here in New England. The foliage is changing color, pumpkins and skeletons are everywhere, people are arguing online about what does and does not constitute cultural appropriation.
This year the controversy is over the big Disney hit Moana, an excellent movie centered on Pacific Island culture that had Disney praised for their continued efforts to promote more ethnic diversity among their Princesses and main characters. Another big release was Coco, a movie about a young boy named Miguel that is based around the Mexican holiday of The Day of The Dead. It looks pretty good.
It looks pretty good but if your son is white you need to think twice about buying that costume. If you have a little white girl that is a last-minute decider don’t let her be Moana.
Apparently, it’s OK for Disney to make millions of dollars on movies based on other cultures but for a small child to pretend to be a character of that culture when they are not is racist and culturally insensitive. There have been many white Disney Princesses over the years, we should be sticking to those. If this seems to be suggesting to our children that they are only allowed to like those that share their ethnicity, it’s our job to correct them and use it as a teaching moment about their privilege.
I found this news to be deeply troubling. Not because it would force us to change Halloween plans, but because of the Elena of Avalor backpack that my six year old, white, daughter brings to school every day. Elena is Latina. She also has a name very similar to my daughter Alaina’s, making her a favorite. The backpack is probably OK but I may have to make her switch back to last year’s Frozen one until I am 100% sure.
Fortunately, our Halloween costume was decided upon a month ago, no doubt in her mind, no changing costumes from event to event this year. It’s been all Mal, all the time. She has been so obsessed with the character, the daughter of Maleficent in Disney’s The Descendants and Descendants 2 made for television movies that we have to have some article of clothing, even it’s just socks or a hair tie, that is the color purple every day. She now carries a “spellbook” everywhere she goes and our biggest challenge has been not wearing out her costume before Halloween actually gets here.
Her second choice would have been Thor, which I also assume would have been appropriate, an assault on the patriarchy as opposed to a statement on gender fluidity.
Or maybe it just would have been a little girl dressing up as a fictional character that she likes?
Cultural appropriation is real, and if it seems as if I’m mocking the problem, I’m not. My understanding, however, is that it’s an act of stereotyping someone’s culture, belittling it. It can be a fine line, but I think a distinction needs to be made between dressing up as an ethnicity, as a cultural stereotype, and dressing up as a character of a different ethnicity. A Dora the Explorer costume is much different than a “lost little Mexican girl” costume. Jasmine or Shimmer and Shine are OK, dressing your daughter up in a burqa is not.
Maybe I’m wrong. This post was inspired by somebody that felt I was, that felt I was “whitesplaining” and that I should use this opportunity to teach my white daughter that “not everybody, particularly those of color, gets to be whoever they want to be.”
Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there are other ways to teach that lesson. Instead, I’ll choose to teach her that heroes and princesses come in many different colors and backgrounds. I’ll celebrate the fact that movies and television are recognizing that. If we want to continue to promote that diversity, doesn’t segregation of costumes, telling our children who they can and cannot emulate based on their skin color counterproductive?
This post was previously published on thirstydaddy.com.
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Photo credit: Photo by author. Used with permission