Appropriation is theft. Appreciation is comprehension.

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Tea timers, growing up, my favorite Disney princess was Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.” I loved her long brunette hair, golden yellow dress and loving soul; everything about her made me want to be her. So, when I was 9 years old and picking a costume for my first Halloween in the U.S., there was no conversation — I was going to be Belle, and nobody could tell me otherwise. 

Yet, people had much to say about the decision. 

“But, Belle is white.” 

“Why don’t you want to be Tiana?” 

“You look more like Jasmine.”

That was when I realized Halloween is more than just dressing up. It’s social commentary. It’s cultural exploration. And, more recently, it’s a beacon for cultural appropriation.

Exploiting elements from other cultures has been normalized by celebrities, including the Kardashian family, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, the Hadid sisters, Scarlet Johansson and even Madonna. And I can’t forget the princess of Carnival, Adele.

Adele celebrated the Notting Hill Carnival, an annual August celebration of the British West Indian community, by dressing in a Jamaican-flag bikini top and twisting her hair into Bantu knots. Bantu knots, which originated in southern Africa, are a protective hairstyle meant exclusively for the Black community.

Many celebrities say their appropriation is actually “cultural appreciation.” The discussion of appropriation versus appreciation is fluid — as cultures and people change, the willingness to share and understand each other changes as well.

So, what exactly is the difference between appropriation and appreciation?

Cultural appreciation is the desire to comprehend and educate yourself about a specific culture in hopes of becoming more culturally and globally aware. It carries an abundance of respect and admiration for a group of people and their beliefs and actions. Appreciation is cherished by both those participating and those being appreciated.

Cultural appropriation is stealing portions of a culture and utilizing it for personal gain. It does not benefit anybody involved. It is selfish and rude. It is blatantly disrespectful.

Can you see the difference? 

Halloween is meant to be an enjoyable season to play dress-up — not to offend an entire community. 

You can wear Beyonce’s iconic Homecoming outfit without blackface. You can be Mulan in her red dress without making your eyes a certain size. You can be Moana without tainting your skin.

A Native American is not a costume. Black is not a costume. A mariachi band is not a costume.

Those are cultures and races, not costumes. That is cultural appropriation. 

I pride myself in my Sudanese culture. I carry my rituals and traditions with respect. I share them with those who choose to understand and learn. I have had friends outside of my culture participate in traditional activities and dressing. 

Had any of my friends decided to wear blackface in a Sudanese tobe, I would never share my culture with anyone. I would be discouraged and hurt that something so disrespectful could happen.

That is the consequence of cultural appropriation. The more it is committed, the less likely people will be to share their customs and lifestyles. 

There is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. If you’re mindful of such, you will be less problematic. It’s OK to be called out on your mistakes. If a person of the culture you’re appropriating tells you you’ve offended them, take the time to educate yourself to avoid the same confrontation.

Please make sure that this spooky season, you’re not the most problematic friend in the room. And that’s the tea.


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