Halloween is tomorrow, and along with the pumpkins and the horror movies comes the ever-present (and extremely annoying) question of what constitutes an appropriate costume. I personally find it hard to believe that in 2015 we are still managing to offend thousands of people, if not entire cultures, by diminishing the importance of their cultures and donning their most sacred traditional garb as a costume for candy. While I won’t expressly outline what you can and can’t wear, I will point out some common mistakes people make.
Cultural appropriation is the sociological concept of members of one culture using elements of another culture in a typically degrading way, or to emphasize a negative stereotype. When you or your friends are trying to pick out costume this year, ask yourselves “would an actual _____ be offended by this?” For example, one of the most controversial issues this year was the transitioning of Caitlyn Jenner. Recently, a costume mimicking Jenner in her Vogue magazine cover with a sash that reads “Call me Caitlyn” has surfaced. While this seems more like impersonation rather than appropriation, there are some clear differences in the way this costume is presented.
When you choose to wear something that another culture values as important for your Halloween costume, you willingly take part in cultural appropriation. By donning the Caitlyn Jenner costume, you disregard the struggles of every transgender person and ignore the very real perils they face. The same can be said for sugar skulls, another popular costume in America, and clothing like Native American headdresses. Those are specific aspects of a culture other than your own, that apply to specific things that are not Halloween. Sugar skulls were not created so that you could dress up as one to look pretty -- they are Mexican ornaments for the graves of loved ones to be used during the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Even with perfectly healthy intentions, cultural appropriation is still not okay. If you respect and revere a culture, you can show that respect not by dressing up as their most sacred figure, but by doing the exact opposite. Taking aspects of a culture and reducing them to mere fashion accessories is not the correct way to celebrate Halloween. If anything, it’s lazy. Get creative. Dress up as something funny, something scary, or something completely unique. Don’t use this holiday as an excuse to offend people. It’s not just clothes you’re playing with, it’s an important part of someone’s life.
For more information on Halloween and cultural appropriation, click here.