Culture is not a costume: costumes to avoid this Halloween

Article and photos by Tara Elsa, editor-in-chief

Races, ethnicities and all negative stereotypes of people should never become a costume. The Halloween season is meant to be fun, where we sit down with friends late at night and watch scary movies or go trick-or-treating on Halloween night. While there are many costumes that are fun and acceptable, there are many costumes that one should avoid when preparing for Halloween.

Many have heard the term “cultural appropriation” but don’t know what it really means. Cultural appropriation is when someone adopts the practices of another group of people, especially when that group is oppressed; it is both offensive and inappropriate. Jamia Wilson, a Black writer and feminist, explains, “there is a significant distinction between repurposing cultural symbols, and appropriating [or taking] other peoples’ traditions for fetish, profit or social capital… Context matters. When we carelessly adopt the culture of oppressed groups without regard to history, unequal power dynamics, and the political context of our actions, we risk causing further damage.” With this in mind, we can begin to think about how a costume might be offensive and inappropriate to wear. 

It must be established that any form of changing one’s skin color to look like another person/people is never okay. But what about hairstyles? This has been debated for quite some time. Thinking back to what Wilson said, it is most important to recognize if we are looking at the “context of our actions” and whether we are possibly offending others. Wearing hairstyles or clothing that originated from another people’s culture should never become a costume.

Let’s talk about what costumes to avoid this Halloween and every Halloween. We should never change our appearance to look like someone of another race, even if they are a famous person, a book character or a movie character. Hawaiian culture has been appropriated a lot recently. Even though dressing up as a “hula girl” once seemed harmless, it is also a form of cultural appropriation that connects to early Hawaiian beliefs. The same goes for dressing up in Native American headdresses or any cultural wear. Besides cultural appropriation, dressing up as someone’s disability or making fun of somebody is never okay. It’s important to think about your costume before you dress up, because Halloween is meant to be fun rather than a day of causing further harm to others.

When you’re dressing up or getting ready for Halloween, first ask yourself, is my costume made to look like another person’s culture or make fun of it? Does my costume include changing my hair to be one typically seen in another person’s culture, changing my skin color or changing my outfit to resemble someone’s culture or to make fun of someone? Does my costume feed into the stereotypes of certain people? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you should reconsider your costume.

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