If you read my last post, you know we started studying Asian culture at the beginning of the school year. I anticipated this study to last a couple weeks at most but the boys just kept asking for more. Much of their interest was fueled by their love of martial arts so we started our studies learning about ninjas and samurais. This evolved into studies of early Asian civilizations and what the lives of Chinese and Japanese children look like today.
We read tons of books and learned about Japanese kite making and a beautiful form of Japanese street theatre called Kamishibai. Our favorite story was about a dog named Hachikō whose owner was a professor at the University of Tokyo. Hachikō waited for his owner everyday at the train station and was well known and loved by the daily commuters. When he passed away, the town erected a statue of Hachikō and it still stands today.
It’s not uncommon for me to walk in the boy’s room to find them playing ninjas or samurais or pretending to be Bruce Lee. So when the boys asked me if they could be ninjas for Halloween, I thought it was a natural fit. I suggested that we find Storie a kimono so she could join the fun and they were ecstatic.
I didn’t think much else about our decision until I saw an article from The NY Times on costume correctness. The pretense centers around racially and culturally insensitive costumes that are meant to exploit specific groups of people or reinforce certain stereotypes. The article mainly references college students wearing offensive costumes but I couldn’t help but wonder if my kid’s costumes could be sending the wrong message. I know both my children and I came from a place of complete admiration and respect when choosing their costumes but I certainly wouldn’t want to offend someone unintentionally.
There are different views on where the line lies and it’s definitely blurry. I mean, the University of Washington sent out a video to it’s students and used the example of not wearing a karate uniform with a black belt unless one earned it. If we’re playing by their standard, my kid’s costumes are totally unacceptable. They certainly don’t have Japanese heritage much less ninja blood running through their veins, just complete admiration of the culture. But until they head off to college, I get to draw the line and their joy wins. I know if anyone asks them about their costumes, they’ll get more facts about a ninja than they ever wanted and that’s good enough for me.
So what were some of the acceptable costumes mentioned? A Starbucks coffee, a Crayola crayon, Where’s Waldo and Spider-Man. While these costumes might sound perfectly harmless on the surface, I actually have a big problem with all of them. They are all heavily marketed consumer goods. $17 billion is spent annually by companies advertising to our children friends. They are bombarded by it constantly. Consumerism can’t be the solution. Not in my house.