Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, except for one major flaw; Indian Themed costumes. Well, not just Indian themed costumes, but any costumes that appropriate another culture negatively. Indian themed ones just hit home for me especially hard because of my own cultural background. Whether they’re the cutesy Indian girl costumes for infants or the even more inappropriate “sexy Indian girl” costumes for teens, they’re offensive and they need to go the ‘eff away.
I am 1/4 Cherokee and much of my family on my father’s side is a part of the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky. I am extremely proud of my heritage and made sure to educate myself about my family’s past and the history of the Cherokee nation (and native Americans in general). That history is one filled with honor, pride and tradition, but also violence and heartbreak. Which is why it pains me to see the disrespectful appropriation in the form of Indian themed costumes, of that culture every year during Halloween.
One excuse I often get is that it’s honoring our culture, not appropriating it. And occasionally I will see a costume where this is actually true. But for the most part, the vast majority of Native American themed costumes are ridiculously inaccurate and often downright insulting. You might think it’s cute that your daughter loves Pocahontas and wants to emulate her in a costume similar to the one above, but if she was in a more accurate costume you probably wouldn’t think it was so adorable.
Current depictions of Pocahontas were based off of highly politicized and romanticized versions of her meant to portray native Americans in a certain light and are far from realistic.
Every year I get my hopes up that common sense, political correctness or whatever you want to call it will prevail and I will see less of these silly costumes. Obviously I know I’m just kidding myself. The bottom line is that these costumes aren’t okay. Generic Indian themed costumes aren’t okay and neither are ones depicting fictional or historical characters because they are all based on inaccurate stereotypes of native peoples. They’re racist and I think everyone damn well knows it by this point.
I could go on and on about it and I’m sure people will call me over-sensitive, but this is not about some overreaction to PC culture. This is about respect and human dignity. The culture of my father and grandparents (and my own to a lesser degree) are not costumes. They aren’t trends to be tried on and discarded. It’s not okay to dress your child in Indian themed costumes, the same way it isn’t okay to dress yourself or your kids as a “Mexican” in a sombrero, a Geisha girl or in blackface as Amos and Andy.
There are thousands of non Indian themed costumes to choose from, how hard is it to chose one that isn’t disrespectful to someone’s culture? Yes, it’s hard to explain to your kids why they can’t pick out that cute Pocahontas princess costume. Most discussions about racism with kids are difficult. But they’re also worth the effort and you’ll be making your kids better people in the process.