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Conversation about cultural appropriation comes in time for Halloween

Students from Mills spoke on a panel about their experiences with cultural appropriation and ways to avoid being complicit with it. (Emily Burian)
Students from Mills spoke on a panel about their experiences with cultural appropriation and ways to avoid being complicit with it. (Emily Burian)

On the night of Thursday Oct. 22, a full house of Mills community members participated in a cultural appropriation conversation in anticipation of the Halloween costume season.

The conversation took place in order to educate Mills students about the harmful effects many Halloween costumes can have to marginalized cultures and how to continue this conversation past Halloween. The event was hosted by Mills students Octavia Sun, Vesta Javaheri, Nazanin Szanto, the Affinity Groups on campus and a panel consisting of another five students, Joyelle Baker, Margartia Sanchez Morales, Erin Clark, Jaylina Vay and Malu Davis.

The night started with Szanto declaring the room a “brave space,” as opposed to safe space, where the community recognizes the different levels of experience people have while everyone still actively seeks greater understanding.

Sun hosted the panel and asked questions that led the audience to think critically about violence that marginalized cultures experience from cultural appropriation and what the audience can do in correcting themselves and their community.

The appropriative nature of dreadlocks was one of the first questions to be asked, and the panel explained the historical importance of locs to African American culture and why the appropriation of this hairstyle is damaging. Clark talked about the deeply emotional connection dreadlocks are to her culture and how they are an important act of resistance for her.

“Call my hair dreadful, it is my form of resistance,”Clark said. “Your hair is supposed to be an extension of your energy. For me this is how I look when I woke up.  What did you have to do for your hair to look like that and why? This is my roots. Roots are growing from my head.”

Other questions included dressing up as fictional characters that resembled cultures, to which many of the panel members dissented that because they are shaped after existing cultures, it would not be appropriate. Baker informed the audience of the issue of Blackface, as it has been popular especially for white college students, to dress up as black characters for Halloween costumes.

“Blackface under no circumstance is acceptable. Blackface is never acceptable,” Baker said.

The panel continuously brought up throughout the night the importance of power structures with cultural appropriation. Davis encouraged those that are a part of the dominant culture to educate and check themselves.

“Remember that people of color, especially Black people of color literally deal with this every day, and appreciate that you have experienced this for the first time. So check yourself.  Check yourself like, ‘damn I don’t have to go through this everyday,’” Davis said.

Towards the end of the night, Baker read a quote by Nicki Minaj on her reaction to the controversy that happened earlier this month with Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift.

“If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that,” Baker quoted.