My Culture is Not Your Costume

With Halloween upon us, it's important to remember one's culture is not appropriate for your holiday costume.

Life & Travel

Halloween has always been a holiday I dreaded. Besides the horror films saturating my TV, the glorified worship of death, and the unhealthy consumption of candy, Halloween costumes are the bloodline for making  it a day of terror, especially when they are racially insensitive.

As I scrolled my Facebook timeline passing several posts of creative costumes including a cotton candy lady, two girls dressed like Amber Rose and Black Chyna at the 2015 BET Awards, and the typical leopard lady, I almost spit out my Frappuccino when I saw Hillary Duff and her boyfriend Jason Walsh dressed as a pilgrim and Native American.

When will people learn that cultures are not costumes. Just because it's sold, doesn't mean it should be bought.

Last year, former Love & Hip Hop star Kaylin Garcia committed the same costume crime, when she decided to wear a headdress on Halloween.

But what really caught my attention was her reaction to the backlash she was receiving for wearing it:

The Miami-bred video vixen and fitness instructor, posted an alarming PSA to Native Americans, including myself, who were insulted by her post:

“PSA ! To ALLLLL the Native Americans commenting on my s**t, saying it’s offensive or how dare me. This is me embracing your culture I’m not doing or saying a damn thing to offend yall. I’m in a freaking costume for crying out loud. Yall take s**t too serious, every year it’s some s**t. Yall collectively get a check just cause you’re Native American. WTF yall complaining about. If the COSTUME bothers yall THAT much then yall COLLECTIVELY need to get together and write a letter to Party City to discontinue all Native American costumes. I love yall but just get off my IG with BS if it aint all love. #PartyCityStartingProblems”

Personally, I was less annoyed by the costume than I was irritated and concerned about Kaylin’s discourteous excuse as to why she felt she was able to wear the provocative costume.

But this is not the first time there has been a raised brow at a celebrity’s choices to wear Native American regalia as a fashion statement.

In July 2014, The Voice judge and singing coach, Pharrell Williams, graced the special edition cover of Elle UK wearing a sacred "Cherokee" headdress. He later issued an apology stating, "I respect and honor every kind of race, background and culture. I am genuinely sorry."

In June 2014, Khloe Kardashian was under fire when she wore a headdress and a Native American costume to her niece, North West, first festival birthday party, titled Kidchella. No apology was offered from the reality star.

What many may not understand is that the Native American headdress is much more than pretty décor. In some indigenous cultures (mostly the Lakota Sioux), it is a war bonnet that is earned (not purchased) and represents his training, his experience on the war path, and otherwise qualifications to be a leader. It is also a symbol of leadership in social and worldly affairs.

When it comes to Native Americans (Indigenous People, American Indian, whichever you prefer) there are several misconceptions and myths that people are uninformed of because of their lack of exposure to the People. Here is a quick crash course in educating people about my Native People:

Native Americans do exist. “They still exist?” I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this question and yes, thanks to Great Spirit we are still alive.  Native American’s are everywhere in the “Americas” and are equally as deserving of respect as any other race in the world. If you don’t believe me, then ask an elder in your family. Someone has either had an encounter with us or we run through your veins.

Not all Native Americans are light skin. Johnny Depp, Audrey Hepburn and Burt Lancaster are all white people who have painted on “redface” which is just as culturally inappropriate as painting on “blackface.” Their portrayal of Native Americans created confusion amongst people that Native Americans all have long hair and light-skin, or even red skin which is far from the truth. Just like all brown races, Native Americans come in a variation of skin tones that range from light olive to the deep chocolate brown, and our hair textures vary from thick and curly to long and straight. Our beauty is abundant.

Native Americans do not all live on the Rez. Another misconception is that Native Americans were all forced to live on the Reservations. This is false! Native Americans are not living in teepees on the land. We live in the city, the suburbs, as well as rural areas. We own businesses (not just casinos), we work in offices, and we even travel outside of the country.

All Native Americans do not receive a check or own a casino. Contrary to what many may believe, not all Natives receive checks from the U.S. government. Some receive checks from their tribal government and some do not receive checks at all. Just to be clear, those checks that come from the U.S. government are rent checks, so no respect has been sacrificed in the receiving.

Native Americans are not just Cherokee. Another popular belief is that All Indians are Cherokee, but there are over 500 nations of American Indian, and each of us has our own ethnic identity. For instance, I am from the Lenni Lenape, one of the oldest nations in the country.

Kaylin Garcia definitely has a point that Native Americans should surely turn their attention to retailers that sell these offensive costumes, but as people we have a responsibility of respect and courtesy to learn what is culturally appropriate in order to live in harmony. Just because it's sold, doesn't mean it should be bought.

Although we appreciate the interest in “embracing our culture”, it is most imperative to educate yourself on the appropriate way to show your love, otherwise your attempt will be seen as ill-informed and ill-mannered.

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