Halloween Costume ≠ Cultural Appropriation By: Samiha Charles
At the dawn of Halloween, something foul lurks in the air. It’s not the Covid cases that
continue to linger in the backgrounds of every filled house and party or the angst of waiting for costumes to come together in time for October 31. Come this time of year there is something more horrifying than maggots on flesh and ghosts in parlors: cultural appropriation.
For some, Halloween is a time to excuse oneself from political correctness and make a
statement, whether comical or parodic through costumes and face paint. These costumes,
whether strewn together last minute or planned weeks in advance, are marked by their
characteristic sex appeal, and thus, often, cultural exploitation. From white women in historically incorrect, Coachella-esque Indigenous headdresses, to the white men in Black face mocking the likeness of America’s first and only Black president; when will the time come to grow up? To realize that these costumes are not funny or clever, let alone making any worthwhile statement—unless your idea of witty social commentary is proclaiming arrogance.
Before we delve into the ethics (or lack thereof) of cultural appropriation, let’s take a
look at a few examples of what exploitative costumes are.
If your costume includes wearing a bindi, headdress, qipao, or sloppily smearing lipstick over your cheeks to act as last-minute face paint, you would be better off going to your party dressed as Casper the Friendly Ghost. It will save you money and conflict with people of color who you will inevitably offend. If your costume includes you having to darken your skin to make it as “authentic” as possible, put down the foundation brush—the answer is no.
To those who truly do not understand why it is offensive to make a costume out of a real person’s culture, consider how you might feel in this situation: imagine you are a minority going to a party. You are the only person of color there while everyone is dressed in your cultural garments as a costume, painting their faces to look like you, making fun of your family’s accents, wearing the clothes you know your grandparents have been shamed for wearing, mocking your family and ancestors and centuries worth of tradition that shaped you and your life. How would you feel?
The significance of these garments makes them more than just clothes that are slapped together and thrown off at will. While the wearer’s intentions may be pure, the burden rests on their shoulders to consider the impact of wearing a culturally insensitive costume. Sarees, headdresses, sombreros, and kimonos, to name a few, are certainly beautiful, but they also carry centuries worth of cultural value. These garments deserve to be learned about rather than mocked. There are millions of other costumes and inoffensive creative ideas that people can put together to make a unique costume. Life will not crumble if you cannot wear Black face. Your freedom of speech will not suddenly cease to exist when you choose not to wear a culturally or racially offensive costume.
To people of color, if you see someone wearing something that is culturally offensive, even if not particularly to your culture but someone else’s, check them! Standing there and choosing silence in the face of cultural appropriation is problematic. We are all in this together.