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The Problem with Insensitive Halloween Attire

Oh Halloween, a day to honour all things spooky and scary and dress up for the sake of having fun. Unfortunately, sometimes the “fun” of Halloween comes at the expense of others, and the scariest thing is the rampant cultural appropriation that comes with some costumes.

Now don’t get me wrong, I want you to have fun, but without ruining someone else’s fun or coming across as ignorant or malicious.

I can already hear it. “Relax, it’s just a costume, it’s just a joke.”

Let me stop you there.

To understand why it’s not “just a joke,” you need to understand what cultural appropriation really is.

According to Fordham University Law professor Susan Scafidi, cultural appropriation is defined as, “the adoption of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another, generally, when the subject culture is a minority culture. This ‘appropriation’ often occurs without any real understanding of why the original culture took part in these activities or the meanings behind these activities.”

Throughout history, western culture has had a fascination with finding entertainment in mocking and perpetuating stereotypes of oppressed groups. We depict minority culture as being edgy, fashionable, exotic and desirable.

When you dress up in “blackface”, as a “sexy geisha”, as a “indian warrior princess”, as an “illegal alien”, and the like for Halloween, you are associating yourself with a history of western imperialism, slavery, and violence against minority groups. You are making a mockery of the inherent racial and socioeconomic inequalities in our society and appropriating what you think minority culture is.

Again, I hear you.

“I didn’t buy my costume with the intention of hurting anyone.”

I’m sure you didn’t, but regardless of whether or not your costume was selected with good intentions, your costume can still perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmas.

“I asked my friend who is (minority identity) if my costume was offensive, and they said it wasn’t.”

Fortunately, one person does not speak for an entire culture, race, or ethnicity. Just because one person of a minority group isn’t offended, doesn’t mean that another person of that minority group won’t be.

Halloween costumes are associated with being spooky, funny, or sexy. Do you really think Halloween is the best time to show appreciation for a culture, race, or ethnicity that is deeply personal to others?

“I really love and respect (minority identity) and I want to show how much I appreciate it.”

Appreciation and appropriation are two different things. When you choose to dress up as another culture, race, or ethnicity, you need to ask yourself. Are you actually coming from a place of sincere appreciation for the culture, are you being respectful, showing humility, and understanding of its history? If you are, my best guess is that you already know why its not okay to use this as a costume.

Halloween costumes are associated with being spooky, funny, or sexy. Do you really think Halloween is the best time to show appreciation for a culture, race, or ethnicity that is deeply personal to others?

“But what about reverse racism or reverse cultural appropriation? What about appropriating white culture?”

White culture is seen as the norm in society. White privilege is still alive and well. There is no such thing as the appropriation of white culture because white culture is the mainstream, it has not been systematically oppressed and subjugated by another group. It has never been the minority, it has not experienced the centuries of exotification, stereotyping, brutality and injustices that many minority groups have faced.

So this Halloween, I ask you, when picking out your costumes please remember that a culture is not a costume. Halloween is not the one day out of the year when you get to be disrespectful to others.

I encourage you to actively question and challenge the costumes that we deem acceptable and to take responsibility for the message your costume may be sending to others. I urge you to be respectful instead of insensitive.

Take this Halloween as an opportunity to educate yourself and engage in a dialogue with others about why cultural appropriation of Halloween costumes is offensive and wrong.

It isn’t enough just to say that you’re not appropriating. Your actions have to reflect that, too.

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