On Oct. 31, 2016, upon failing to find a Pocahontas costume, I attempted to dress up as an Indian from whatever I already had in my closet. I found a tribal skirt that I had purchased a few years back, a black feather, an auburn colored shirt and brown boots. I complemented my outfit with three neon green horizontal lines on either cheek, called it a costume and walked out of the door.
A few selfies and social media pictures later, I received a very angry message from a girl I’d never met. She told me how “disgusting and racist” I was —among other things— for having dressed up in the way that I did. She proceeded to tell me how her culture was “not a $20 costume,” and that it was “equivalent to dressing up as blackface.”
At the moment and caught up in my rage, I acted defensively, as I think anyone in my place would have. I wasn’t very receptive to being called things like a racist, especially when I felt they were unwarranted.
The next day in class, however, we covered the Dakota Access Pipeline incident wherein many members of the Sioux tribe were grossly mistreated, brutalized and discriminated against by police during a peaceful protest. Upon some self-reflection, I contemplated the legitimacy of the phrase “cultural appropriation.”
Being a member of a minority myself, I always thought myself to be a very cognizant person when it comes to culture and race, but alas, I was wrong. As much as I would like to think the 2000’s are an era, which has pioneered progression, there are often many large and unfortunate incidents surrounding people of all races that don’t always make it to the media.
Considering all that Native Americans have faced and continue to face in this country, I didn’t appreciate how truly sensitive this topic was. I also didn’t realize how offensive my so-called “Halloween costume” could be to actual members of Native American tribes.
I was consumed with guilt, and decided it was time to put my pride and ignorance aside. I offered a long overdue apology. In the end, I do believe that race is a social construct. Unfortunately for a lot of people though, we are all members of that society.
I hope the day comes where we are truly able to break down those barriers. But, until then, we must learn respect for all cultures and races, and try our best to always educate ourselves first.
Letters to the Editor are not written by FIUSM Staff. They are submitted by readers of The Beacon. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.
Image retrieved from Flickr.