Thursday, 2 November 2017

Children's Costumes and Racism; Has the World Gone Mad?

Red haired girl in a Frozen-themed photo shoot. Disney may have its critics and it's faults, but it has never been afraid to embrace diversity and culture in its vast catalogue of popular children's films. However, a debate blew up recently on Good Morning Britain, about whether children dressing up as the Disney character Moana could be a case of 'cultural appropriation' and something that shouldn't be encouraged.  This isn't the first time this issue has made its way into the media. A post reappeared recently on Reddit, where a mother received a lot of negativity for dressing her daughter up in a Geisha costume for a Japanese tea party. So when does innocent fun become racism?

As I write this, I've just spotted one of those BBC idents that appear between programmes, featuring Bangra dancers and at least one of them was a white lady, not Indian, so does that make her racist? As a viewer, what I saw was a bright, colourful celebration of a vibrant culture and I only noticed that not all the dancers were Indian because I was writing this post. Those few seconds of footage give an insight into something amazing we wouldn't normally get to see and that is what I love about today's media, our children are introduced to all kinds of different traditions and ways of life that they wouldn't normally get to witness. It's educational. It makes our children more tolerant, more accepting and more understanding as human beings.  One of the first ways our children learn is through role play; through copying what they see around them. We work hard as parents to give them positive role models for this reason and what better opportunity to expose them to the diversity of the world around them.

When I was at school I can remember learning about Japanese culture through a Japanese tea party at school and I also sent both my children to school in costumes from various countries, depending on which one they were learning about that term. It's not cultural appropriation, it's learning. Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, my son watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the original Disney film, released in 1937, for the first time. He asked me why 'Snow White', as a title for a character, wasn't considered racist. Which is a very interesting point. In my view, when a child dresses up as their hero, it's an opportunity for them to embrace and celebrate that culture, to learn what it feels like to be part of that world. It's not mocking, it's using their imagination to discover new worlds, which is what children are supposed to do. It's what they've always done. I asked some other parent bloggers if this debate was going to change what they allowed their children to wear and this was their response:

 Can I swear? I'll try not to. I absolutely and utterly detest what is going on with this debate and that it appears to have been started by a blogger is embarrassing. Children learn through play and to restrict that based on skin colour or that child's cultural history is bollocks. I have a white 3 year old son and if he wants to play dress up then he can dress up however he wants to. I don't feel the need to justify myself to anyone. Natasha, from Mummy and Moose

I’m outraged that this is even a thing! Kids should be allowed to dress how they like and who inspires them. Race doesn’t even come into it and nor should it. Laura, from Savings 4 Savvy Mums

When it's make believe and children's fancy dress, I really don't see any harm. They're innocent little ones and not doing it to offend anyone. Holly, from Thrifty Mum

I think it’s absurd - my white child dressing up as Moana is not offensive, it’s my child loving Moana. A child of any other ethnicity dressing up as a white character isn’t offensive. It’s alarming that it’s being spoken about when children are so beautifully innocent - why teach a 3-year-old to differentiate people based on race or culture? Hannah, from Budding Smiles


Girl dressed as Elsa from Frozen
In a national newspaper, an American mother suggested that children should not dress up as Elsa from Frozen, because she is a white princess and may convey the message that you have to look a certain way to be considered beautiful, or a princess.


I'm with Natasha. Cultural appropriation is about a lack of respect or a desire to humiliate, steal or laugh at a culture, children are not doing that when they dress up, they are learning through play. Even adults can wear another country's national dress without any disrespect.  Naomi, from Tattooed Mummy's Randoms

I find the whole thing ridiculous and what are we teaching our children if we tell them that they can only dress up as their hero if that hero is the same colour/nationality as them. That they can't aspire to be like them because their skin is the wrong colour?! Personally I prefer to teach my children to see what is on the inside of a person and to see everyone as the same, it has never even crossed my mind that this would/should be an issue. The World has gone mad. Stevie, from A Cornish Mum

It seems to be yet another thing people can be offended by. There's so much emphasis on the fact that kids don't notice or care about skin colour and yet this? My son's school is very multicultural and he has lots of different friends, it seems odd to me to be the one to point out something like that and be the one to ignite separation like that. Kids heroes are kids heroes, imagine it the other way round it just wouldn't and shouldn't ever happen so this is no different. The man that dressed up as Madelyn McCann however is a totally different story! Laura. from Waffle Mama

My little girlie is having a Moana themed party and she is dressing up as Moana. There is no way I'm saying "no you can't, there's a slight possibility you might offend someone". They are children and this whole debate is ridiculous!  Sarah, from Whimsical Mumblings

It is only cultural appropriation if they’re disrespecting the culture, I’m a Pacific Islander so for me it’s not an issue if a child wants to dress as a Disney character because it is a fictional character and there are a lot of inconsistencies in the movie itself with regards to our culture. I do have an issue with the skin shirts which I believe they have removed because the traditional tattoos have a cultural significance to us as Pacific Islanders, to me that is akin to someone doing a black face to mirror their idea of being the same complexion as a black person. In saying that - Cultural appropriation is a thing and shouldn’t be dismissed, it has been misused as a tagline for anything relating to culture but it doesn’t mean that the issue should be minimised. Isabella, from Fijian In The UK

So there you have it, parents have got enough to worry about, bringing up their children to be considerate, thoughtful members of society, without worrying about something that is being made into an issue. Children have dressed up as characters from their favourite shows for generations and what's beautiful about this fact, is that they have probably never given any thought to whether or not they are the same colour or race as the character they choose. Wouldn't it be wonderful to keep it that way? To let our children have that little bit of innocence to just be someone for a little while, because that someone is brave, or strong, or even pretty? They don't care about ethnicity, and isn't that exactly what we are all striving for?

It's been suggested that children should not dress up as certain Disney characters, for fear of 'cultural appropriation'. Here, we ask other mums if this will affect their children's dressing up box.

Thanks to Tina, from Trials and Tribulations of a Brummie Mummy for lending me her fabulous Frozen photos and Sophee, for the lovely Beauty and the Beast pic. 
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27 comments

  1. I think you've hit the nail firmly on the head with them not noticing the colour or ethnicity!

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  2. My sentiments exactly
    There is always something !!!!
    Lots more important issues to look at ie the state of children's teeth

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  3. Great post and I'm so glad to see that from a different spectrum of parents we all feel the same about this craziness!

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  4. Great post Lucy! I’m aghast that this has been blown up the way it has xx

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  5. awesome post and I agree, it has nothing to do with colour and race... costumes and the argument that it is not okay is stupidity!

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  6. I just can't believe people would even bother themselves by getting wound about this seriously don't people have other things to worry about!

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  7. Its weird to think kids dressing up as there hero is consider racist, I think its important for their learning to appreciate other cultures through role play. Great post

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  8. I so agree with you. Let kids be kids for goodness sake. I don't even understand why it's a debate. Costumes are costumes. End of discussion. Of course, unless the person wearing it has an intention to insult another culture, (which I doubt any child would), then that's a different story.

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  9. I agree with you here, it seems a bit crazy. They're only kids after all!

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  10. This whole debate is shocking and really there should be no debate. Children should be allowed to dress up in their favourite characters because they love the character, end of. Nothing to do with anytime else!

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  11. I agree. Children's role play is natural and not racist.

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  12. I don't think children care about things such as race, at least I hope they don't.

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  13. I think it is a ridiculous thing to say. Let your child dress up as their hero or heroine regardless of gender or race. My daughter loves Princess Elena who is Hispanic yet she is blonde haired and blue eyed

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  14. Great post. I heard about this they other day.

    My Daughter use to love dressing up as all the Disney Princesses when she was growing up. She dressed up as she was inspired by that particular princess at the time.

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  15. Children don't see color or race, just characters they like. I see no harm in it!

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  16. Thanks for posting. If a kid has a hero or heroine they should be able to dress up as them regardless of a difference in ethnicity or culture. Learning about and loving other cultures is part of what makes life a rich experience.

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  17. Wow I didn't realise it had been blown so far out of proportion. It's crazy that so innocent and harmless can be made into something it isn't intended to be.

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  18. I think some people have way too much time on their hands! Ridiculous!

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  19. Its just getting ridiculous! None of these children dressing as their favourite hero or heroine have an inkling about any such nonsense, they just love the character...

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  20. I don't understand how dressing up as someone is racist - it's trying to learn and understand surely that's a good thing. To me it should be about intention, nobody wants to accidently offend someone else of course but most of the time it seems to be that the offence is actually taken by a third party and the supposed 'victim' isn't offended anyway.

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  21. I think, as with many things, we are taking 'Political Correctness' to levels of pure stupidity

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  22. I loved reading this.....exactly what I think most of the time...I am not at all racist and vote Labour (gasp!!) but I heard about somebody getting into trouble recently for dressing up as a ZULU at a bonfire party!! Ridiculous x

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  23. Children should be "allowed" to wear what they want, when they want. It is the adults of this world who poison innocent minds and parents who bow to the pressure of "normal".

    If I son wants to wear a dress he bloody well will!

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  24. I was amazed when I first saw this debate. I just think its happening a lot political correctness gone mad.

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  25. The same can be said for gender bias in clothing, my DS and DD both wore jeans and t-shirts growing up and I could pass down the clothes. Now you look in Mothercare and the clothing section is divided into pink and blue even for newborns and even some prams come in pink or blue. Many parents want to know the gender of their baby before it is born so they know what to buy! When did a baby stop being just a baby, why does it have to be defined by its gender?

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  26. I watched the debate on television with an open mouth about children dressing up as Moana being offensive - My daughter loves the film, has a doll and if she wanted to dress up as Moana I would let her in a heartbeat!

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  27. I'm speechless, why are they even debating this!!!

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