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My family (white people) have been invited to a Day of the Dead-themed party this year (thrown by other white people). I am struggling between not at all being into the cultural appropriation of this theme and, at the same time, knowing that the party-throwers are good, kind, generous people who are misguided in their understanding (or lack of understanding) of this holiday.
We are new to the area and to these friends, and I feel like I will be cutting out a huge community if I take a stance on this issue, although I feel taking a stance is the right thing to do. I’m struggling with what to do. I know the right thing to do is to not go and explain why, but yes, I am still struggling. I’m hoping you have some words for this!
— Stepford Woke
Hello, My Lil’ Politically Conscious Pumpkin!
This question is so incredibly timely. Thank you for sending it to me. Let me begin by welcoming you and your family to Louisville. As you may have suspected, I’m not in the business of quelling white guilt, so I for sure can’t give you a pass to attend this party (Although, I’d be a hypocrite if I told you I didn’t ever opt for smooth transactions over taking a stance in certain social situations). However, what I can give you is the language you need to use to pass on this party, but still leaving open the door for future friendship.
Because here’s the thing: It’s really likely that this party is going to be mostly, if not all, white people, which means that you have access to this crowd in a way that people of color do not. If you don’t reach these well-meaning, poor party-planning white folk, who will? I get the allure of a Day of the Dead party. It’s something different than the same-old, same-old neighborhood costume party. I remember in Spanish class Day of the Dead was basically an excuse for a classroom party. I don’t think we were ever taught about Day of the Dead as an aspect of a culture running parallel to our own, versus just another few pages in a text book. I was well into my 20s, when I learned that if I put on sugar skull makeup, I’d be appropriating someone else’s culture (And there was a shitty part of me that wished I’d learned that after the fact). But I didn’t, and I’ve remained respectful, and unlike some people who pout and throw a hissy fit that my Halloween fun is being ruined. Everything ain’t for everyone.
To bow out of this party gracefully, I would say something along the lines of:
“Becky, thank you so much for the invitation, but my family already has plans to go to the zoo that night. Please be sure to invite us all to the next gathering. We’re looking forward to getting to know everyone. Did you see this? This piece has been all over Facebook: It’s about how Day of the Dead parties can be an issue. I thought I’d pass it along. I know it’s not your intent to offend anyone. I saw that ‘All Are Welcome’ sign in your front yard.”
I must warn you, though — this could go over really well with the host replying they had no idea and switching up the theme of the party, or they could toss off a “Some people are so sensitive!” with a wink, wink, because they assume you and they are the same, so you must be on the same narrow-minded page. If things do go this way, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wade into a much deeper, more uncomfortable conversation with this person. Then, as a consolation, I promise you Louisville has a collective of white people who get it, people who will enthusiastically receive you and your family into their fold.
Good luck, Pumpkin.
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