As Halloween approaches, we must acknowledge an annual issue with dressing up- cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the act of taking significant elements (symbols, dress, words, practices, etc.) from a culture that is not your own and removing all original context or meaning, usually with the goal of using these elements to make oneself seem “edgy” or to make a profit. Every year we see costumes of people dressing up as other cultures, usually in mocking and inappropriate ways.
The blatant racism that’s exhibited on Halloween from people wearing blackface to dressing as “Indians” is disgusting. It’s time that people were called out for wearing these disrespectful costumes.
Typically the costumes are rooted in stereotypes, which make them even more harmful to the communities that are being appropriated. To these communities, it shows them what is really thought about them.
There is a difference between admiration and appropriation. Is it okay to dress up as a character from a different race? The general answer is yes but it could quickly become a no. As soon as you begin darkening your skin to match the character or wearing things like culturally significant tattoos, sombreros, or anything that depicts a Mexican stereotype, Native American feathers, or anything depicting Native Americans, a bindi, or things depicting Indians it becomes wrong. All of these are disrespectful, because they may serve a special purpose, have a significant meeting, or be a part of a harmful stereotype.
How would you feel if something you value was viewed as a joke, or it was mocked? The effect of seeing someone dressed up as your culture is dehumanizing.
Here is a list of some inappropriate costumes to wear:
- An Egyptian person
- A Mexican person
- Day of the Dead
- A Geisha
- A Ninja
- A transgender person
- Fat suits
- Costumes that make fun of sexual and gendered violence (e.g., “flasher”)
If you see someone culturally appropriating, what should you do? It’s easy to say speak up, and if you have the energy and desire, do so. Some may not have the emotional capacity to speak up, and that’s okay. If your culture is being mocked, you are not obligated to educate those exhibiting harmful behavior.
Have self-awareness- if you think something is wrong, chances are it probably is. Above all, stay safe this Halloween!