My culture, not your costume: How to avoid cultural appropriation this Halloween

October 29, 2017

Imagine getting a knock on your front door. When you open it, you encounter a dinosaur eager to receive candy. Then another knock, only to see a little princess. Throughout the night, you receive many knocks on the front door, and hand candy out to many interesting characters. Then one more knock on the door. This time when you unlock the door, you see someone who appears to look like you, but is not like you at all. Their face is painted a certain color to match your skin tone. Their garment is cut shorter than what you would traditionally wear. Their plastic accessories are made to resemble ancient artifacts that have a deeper meaning that run in your family. You feel as if your culture has been robbed and mocked.


With Halloween shortly approaching, people may be thinking of who or what they want to portray this year. Portraying someone else for the night may appear to be all fun and games, but it can also be disrespectful because of cultural appropriation.


According to Oxford Dictionaries cultural appropriation is defined as “The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”


There is a fine line between what makes a costume acceptable and what may make a costume offensive.

To PBA students Mideline Cade, sophomore, and Ashley Xuereb, freshman, it is okay to dress up as a character of a certain race, ethnicity, or culture but It is not okay to dress up as a certain race, ethnicity or culture with the intent to make a mockery of it.


Xuereb went on to say, “A part of me is like ‘Freedom to do whatever you want’ but then another is like ‘Is that respectful? Are you doing that out of respect?’”  


It is also possible to dress up as someone else for the night while still maintaining a level of respect and appreciation for their culture. The difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is that someone who appreciates has taken the time to learn about the culture and its traditions. Having respect and knowledge of a culture, wanting to dress up as someone from the culture, and not crossing a certain line can be seen as paying homage or admiration instead of disrespect.


Cultural appropriation is not only a problem during the month of October, but can happen any time of the year, especially at a cosplay convention. According to Mariam-Webster, cosplay is “The practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga and anime.”

Kayen Joiner, a cosplayer who attends conventions year-round, knows not to appropriate Japanese culture, but is aware that it still happens.


“I’ve actually never seen anything problematic in person, that I can remember? But when it does happen it’s a big deal. There’s nothing wrong with cosplaying something that doesn’t match up with your race. But in wearing excessive bronzer or taping your eyes to make them slanted or whatever else is up for debate out there, it’s like you’re not just cosplaying the character, you’re playing on their race,” Joiner said. “Even if someone does it out of complete respect, not parodying the race at all, it’s still really touchy because those aren’t things people can change about themselves.”


Party City, a costume store, has hundreds of costumes to choose from, with many of the costumes being influenced by different cultures. On their website, there are 66 options that appear when the word ‘Native American Indian’ is typed into the search bar. There is a contrast between traditional Native American gowns and the costumes supplied at Party City. Traditional gowns are long, and the details appear to be very specific while the costumes appear to be very generic and revealing.


Even the accessories supplied at Party City may seem offensive to people of different cultures. Party City offers five Native American headdresses on their website. This may be an issue because there are Native Americans who believe that headdresses should not be worn by anyone who is not of Native American descent.


"As wearing a headdress reinforces stereotypes about Native people and appropriates our culture with little or no regard for our traditions, I think it is egregious and contributes to the dehumanization of our people,” said Jacqueline Keeler, founder of EONM (Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry), according to MTV News.


When trying to speak to three employees at a Party City located in Royal Palm Beach about how they feel about costumes and cultural appropriation, they all refused to share their opinions.


Even though people technically have the freedom to dress up as anything or anyone that they would like to be for Halloween, they should consider if their costume is degrading to an entire culture.


“Western norms make people feel bad about their features all the time and then someone wears it as a costume, an accessory they can take off when it’s no longer fitting for the situation,” Joiner said.




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