Costume correctness: Cultural appropriation during Halloween

It’s apparent that Halloween costumes in general have evolved to be more and more provocative. From “sexy” devil costumes made for 12-year-olds to outfits and wigs mocking Caitlyn Jenner, to the “Tequila lover,” who is a sombrero-wearing, poncho-garbed, pot-bellied southern man, the fact is present.

Some people choose their Halloween costumes to be just that: provocative. And there’s nothing wrong with that, per se. The shock and entertainment factor is key, and is the driving force behind all gorey, sexy and parodic costumes, but there is something wrong with ignorantly-worn, culturally offensive costumes.

Cultural appropriation is tied in with the tradition of dressing up for Halloween, and many people are speaking against all costumes that are offensive in this way. The topic has been more popular than ever this year, spreading rapidly amongst communities and social media groups.

Cultural appropriation comes at a price far higher than the already-elevated dollar cost stamped onto the costumes. Halloween costumes are supposed to be fantastical, fun, character-based or scary. They are not supposed to play off of the stereotypes of actual living people and their cultures.

Pretending to be a member of an ethnic, racial or gender group to which you do not belong is cultural appropriation, and is largely offensive to most members of those groups.

A person who paints their face and pretends to be a person of African descent is said to be “wearing blackface.” The name alone sounds insulting, even degrading, but more importantly, it is tied to an extensive history of injustice and violence against African-Americans throughout US history.

I made my way through a pop-up Halloween store last week, Halloween City, and found in the “Classics” section both sombreros, ponchos and Native American headdresses (which were actually called “western headdresses” on the packaging). These outfits mock and oversimplify the cultures behind them.

The list of culturally offensive costumes continues, but it is generally simple to determine whether or not a costume is as such.

If you are considering dressing up as a victim of a crime, prejudice, slander or social injustice, or if you want to dress like someone of a specific culture that is not your own, don’t do it. Get creative, and drop the disrespect, hate and/or appropriation, and be sure to educate yourself if in the future you are even remotely questioning your costume idea.

Though it may feel like avoiding cultural appropriation puts a big red “X” on nearly every costume option, it’s not true. Costumes should be created and worn with intention and knowledge of any history behind the attire or persona. The goal here is not to take away the freedom to dress up as you please, but rather to keep in mind those who may be hurt by your costume.

Avoiding costume concepts that reinforce or mock historical or cultural stereotypes is key, and being considerate when choosing your attire is highly suggested. If in doubt, go as something mythical, from an extinct culture or something from your own culture.