Does your local elementary school host School Spirit Week?
Whether to encourage participation and camaraderie or to raise funds, spirit days are generally harmless. Right?
For kids and adults who identify within the dominant culture, sure, spirit days may seem benign. But for others, they can feel uncomfortable and isolating.
We've explained how three popular spirit day themes can be harmful, and suggested some inclusive alternatives.
Wacky Hair Day
Participants are encouraged to style their hair in "outrageous" or "wild" styles outside of how they'd normally present. Popular styles often include ponytails, braids, mohawks/spiked hair, color, or wigs.
The real deal: Many hairstyles encouraged or expressed on Wacky Hair Day favor those with "white" hair, while kids with Black hair (natural hair, locs, and braids, to name a few) are excluded. Furthermore, white children's interpretation of "wacky" can mock or demean Black or brown hairstyles.
What to do instead: Pajama Day (bonus: wear slippers or bring a stuffed animal).
'Dress Like the Opposite Gender' Day
In this situation, boys are encouraged to "dress as girls," and girls are encouraged to "dress as boys." The more outrageous, the better, so boys can opt to wear make-up or high heels, and girls can opt to draw facial hair on their face.
The real deal: A day like this teaches students that there are only two genders, and that there is only one way to dress if you identify as a boy, and one way to dress if you identify as a girl. This old fashioned and exclusive practice mocks many expressions of gender and perpetuates gender stereotypes.
What to do instead: Try "Dress Like a Rainbow" day or "Monochromatic Day" by class (each class dresses in one color, and everyone comes together in an assembly to form a giant rainbow).
On this day, kids are encouraged to don bandanas and wear ripped or dirty clothing.
The real deal: This practice mocks and exploits homeless people, and sends a message to students that it is acceptable practice to deride people in lower socio-economic classes.
What to do instead: Harvest Day. Encourage students to wear jeans/overalls, plaid, and old boots/shoes, and bring in local produce to share.
Some schools have encouraged students to wear "Hawaiian shirts" (short sleeved button-down shirts with floral prints), grass skirts, and leis.
The real deal: If we encourage students to wear this type of clothing, we show them that cultural appropriation is acceptable. As mainland Americans, donning plastic leis, faux grass skirts, and floral shirts reflects an outdated Hawaiian stereotype. It also "otherizes" indigenous Hawaiians, cheapening their culture by reducing it to plastic costumes and accessories. Finally, this type of spirit day often forces students to box themselves into a gendered role, either wearing a skirt and a feminine top or a button-down shirt and shorts, excluding kids who don't feel comfortable in either type of clothing.
What to do instead: Beach Day. Have kids wear t-shirts/shorts/sunglasses/flip-flops and relax on beach towels.