Friday, October 20, 2017

Explain it to a Five-Year-Old: Moana Costume

I read this article yesterday about a mom who thinks it's not okay for a white girl to dress as Moana.

And when I see stuff like this, I immediately imagine having this conversation with my five-year-old

"Hey, we got the Halloween costume catalog. Do you want to pick your costume for this year?"

He takes the catalog and flips through a few pages, stopping on page three, where his chubby little finger drops to a picture of a girl in a Moana costume. "This one."

I turn to my five-year-old son, the product of French and German descent. I look at his crystal blue eyes, rove down across his ivory skin, to pink cheeks complete with angelic little dimple. If you were to Google image search, "little white boy," his picture would be at the top.

My lips curl into a cringey smile. "Are you sure? You haven't even looked through the whole book."

"I'm sure. Can we go get it now?" He bats his long lashes.

I take the book from him. "Why don't we just look at the other pages?"

Angelic smile turns to frown. "Why? I thought I could be whatever I want for Halloween."

"Well, you can, but you don't want to dress up as something that could hurt someone's feelings."

"Moana hurts people's feelings?"

"No, no." Desperately searching through catalog to find a costume that might tempt him more. "Moana is wonderful."

"I know. She's brave, and she can sail, and she can sing, and do you remember that part with the giant crab? That was my favorite."

"Oh I know, and you're absolutely's just this might not be the best costume for you."

"Because I'm a boy?" His eyes droop, lashes flattening against his cheeks.

"Oh no. Dad and I don't care about that."

"Then why would she hurt people's feelings?"

I close the book and take a breath. "You see Moana is a character based on the Hawaiian people."

"Yeah. It's cool that she lives on an island, and her outfit has so many colors."

"Yes, yes it is. But we're not Hawaiian, so we wouldn't want anyone to think we're making fun of her."

"I'm not making fun of her. I like her."

"Yes, yes." Struggling to find the right words. "Historically, European people have used other cultures to make fun of them, so we don't want to do that."

Small brows draw together. "But I'm not making fun of her."

Exasperated sigh. "We're different than Moana. I think we should find another costume." I retrieve the book.

He twists his face in deep concentration while I rip through pages, trying to find some way to end this conversation.

"Is it because she's brown?" he asks.

The book falls from my fingers. "No...well, not exactly."

"But I like that about her too. She's pretty."

"Yes, she is."

"I'm not allowed to be pretty?"

"No. No."

"Then why can't I wear the Moana costume?"

I stare deeply into his blue eyes, tongue tied, fumbling for words...and I can't find them. "Forget I said anything. Let's go get the Moana costume, and then Mommy needs to pick up a bottle of wine."

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