Sachi Feris, a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, knows how important it is to talk to children about race early on. In a recent blog post, the mother of two encourages other parents to be especially wary of whether or not their kiddos' Halloween costumes appropriate culture in any way.
After making it a point to shield her daughter from Disney movies with princesses, Feris finally caved and let her watch Frozen and Moana. Once she saw the films, her daughter told her she wanted to be either Elsa or Moana for Halloween. Feris wrote:
I had some reservations regarding both costume choices . . . about cultural appropriation and the power/privilege carried by Whiteness, and about Whiteness and standards of beauty . . . and so our conversations began: "Elsa is an imaginary or made-up character. Moana is based on real history and a real group of people . . . if we are going to dress up a real person, we have to make sure we are doing it in a way that is respectful. Otherwise, it is like we are making fun of someone else's culture." Hearing me push back against her Moana choice, my daughter re-asserted her desire to dress up as Moana (for Halloween 2018!). I closed this initial "Moana" conversation by telling her: "We would have to do some research and figure out if there is a way to dress up as Moana that is respectful of her culture."
So is a Moana costume offensive or not? As you can imagine, parents had a lot to say on both sides. Some people admired her for having frank conversations with her little girl: "I admire your perseverance in interacting with your daughter. I realize talking about race and culture is an ongoing deeply important conversation," one reader wrote. "You also have given her essential values along with guidelines so she has the opportunity to grow, be creative, learn and find her way in the world with many ways to celebrate and play with her own race."
Another chimed in with a similar sentiment: "Very helpful article. I do think there is a way to dress-up as favorite characters that are from another culture that is respectful. This article gives a great starting point for thinking about this."
Other parents thought it was hard to draw a hard-and-fast line as to where cultural appropriation begins and ends. One wrote, "This feels murky. . . I think it would be confusing for a child, and an adult, because they're both representing different cultures. Of course, Moana's diversity is easier to spot. I recognize the need to be sensitive, I'm just wondering how you parse the nuances for a child."
Another person had concerns about comparing a child's perspective to an adult's: "The problem I see here is you (as a parent) are perpetuating the ideals of racism. Children don't see Moana as anything different (fundamentally) from themselves. They see a young strong role model and that is what they want to (and should) emulate. By bringing 'cultural appropriation' concerns into the conversation you are injecting the very thing you seek to eliminate. In addition, this seems to be a one way standard (unless you all plan on condemning any non white Snow White, Cinderella, or Belle you see)."
Do you have thoughts on the matter? Let us know where you stand in the comments.