Halloween Cultural Appropriation

Colleges and schools across the country are instructing students how to not commit the crime of “cultural appropriation” this Halloween.

What is cultural appropriation? Apparently, it’s

the taking of intellectual property, knowledge, and cultural expression from someone else’s culture without permission. [emphasis added to quotes]

Unclear is how it’s even possible to get permission to take anything from anyone’s culture!

To whom exactly do the “intellectual property, knowledge, and cultural expression” belong?

Is there a master directory of cultures somewhere, perhaps in the National Archives, complete with a list of phone numbers to call or text for permission?  Forms to fill out?

Maybe Wikipedia has a list. Or maybe we can search for “list of cultural contacts from which to get permission to use intellectual property.”

Believe it or not, that turned up some links. See here and here. The obvious problem with trying to copyright cultural artifacts, whether concrete or immaterial–like ideas or expression–is time. Most U.S. copyrights expire after a certain number of years and then the object or work is in the public domain, as with the photo at the top of this post.

This link contains a slide show of handouts provided at a recent workshop at the University of Southern Indiana. One slide asks,

Are you about to use a symbol or object not from your culture?

How do you even know if a symbol or object is from “your culture?”

Suddenly we’re advised (scolded, actually) that hoop earrings “belong” to the cultures of people of color, so whites can’t wear them. We’re also told that whites can’t wear dreads or cornrows, even though Vikings and other white cultures wore both cornrows and dreadlocks for centuries, as did Asians and Native Americans, among others.

We’re cautioned that other cultures can’t wear dreads or cornrows because more recently blacks have worn dreads and cornrows as a particular style, so now those hairstyles “belong” to black culture. Shouldn’t there be just one American culture, regardless of race or color? But I digress …

Quite obviously, before the invention of combs, all of our common homo sapiens ancestors wore dreads, sooner or later. It just stands to reason. Ask any dog groomer what happens to long hair that’s  not regularly combed.

Consider this about Halloween, which is the subject of the workshop at that public university.

Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening), also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.

It is widely believed that many Halloween traditions originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain; that such festivals may have had pagan roots; and that Samhain itself was Christianized as Halloween by the early Church.

But there didn’t seem to be any consideration in the workshop for how to get permission from the “Celtic culture” or from the Catholic Church to celebrate Halloween in the first place! Without permission, isn’t it cultural appropriation to dress in a costume on Halloween or perform any other traditional Halloween ritual, such as trick or treating, unless your own culture is Gaelic or Celtic?

A pertinent comment from the College Fix:

Truly pathetic. We (Anthropologists) have known since the 1930s that EVERYTHING in ALL cultures comes from OTHER cultures. Best single illustration comes from a 1936 book by Ralph Linton: (1936:327):

“When our friend has finished eating he settles back to smoke, an American Indian habit, consuming a plant domesticated in Brazil in either a pipe, derived from the Indians of Virginia, or a cigarette, derived from Mexico. If he is hearty enough he may even attempt a cigar, transmitted to use from the Antilles by way of Spain. While smoking he reads the news of the day, imprinted in characters invented by the ancient Semites upon a material invented in China by a process invented in Germany. As he absorbs the accounts of foreign troubles he will, if he is a good conservative citizen, thank a Hebrew deity in an Indo-European language that he is 100 per cent American.”

Nevertheless …

Here’s hoping that you have a Happy Halloween!


116 responses to “Halloween Cultural Appropriation

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