In some of the adoption and race forums I belong to, there has been quite a bit of chatter about whether or not children should dress up as characters who are of another race. I actually wrote a post about avoiding racist costumes over at Babble (spoiler alert: blackface is never okay), and I articulated my thoughts on the matter of kids and racially matching costumes:
Let your child’s interest determine their costume.
Let your child’s preference, not their skin tone, dictate costume choices. Black girls are not relegated to being Tiana. Asian girls are not stuck being Mulan. Black boys can be Tony Stark, Asian girls can be Sleeping Beauty, white girls can go as Pocahontas. Halloween is about dressing as a character, not about race-matching.
I feel pretty confident that kids should be able to dress as characters outside their race. But then today, this happened: The JCICS posted a picture of four kids in costume, and it resulted in a firestorm of people commenting on how upset they were that an organization who advocates for international adoption would depict such blatant cultural appropriation. What a lot of people missed was that these girls are dressed as Disney characters Mulan, Pocahontas, and Tiana (and her frog). But at first glance, it certainly looks like some dressed their child as a Geisha with white-face, and another as a stereotypically Indian. The Land of a Gazillion Adoptees wrote the following in an open letter on their facebook page:
You should know that the history, culture, and identify of the kids whose lives Joint Council promotes are to be celebrated, not appropriated as a costume for Halloween or ever. Furthermore, if you truly care about the rich history of the children Joint Council supports, I would encourage you to educate the adoptive parents who choose to dress their children in/as yellow face, black face, Native Americans, etc.
Technically, these girls are dressed as characters, not as mere cultural stereotypes. But the princess characters themselves DO represent cultural stereotypes. It’s a bit tricky, no? In the circles I’m in, it has also raised the question of whether or not we should allow our children to dress up as people of different races. I’m still of the opinion that we shouldn’t limit our kids, but I do think there is some tension when the characters are so stereotyped that it veers into cultural appropriation. What do you think? Do you find the photo offensive? And what do you think about costumes and race . . . should a white child dress as Pocahontas, or is it appropriation? Should a black child be allowed to wear a blonde Rapunzel wig, or is it a negative reinforcement of white beauty standards that should be avoided? Should we steer our kids to dress up as members of their own race, or give them the freedom to explore costumes of anyone, even if it pushes against our cultural baggage as adults?