Culture is not a Costume: How Not To Culturally Appropriate Halloween | The American Word

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Culture is not a Costume: How Not To Culturally Appropriate Halloween

Jenna Caldwell | 10/27/16 3:54am
| Updated 10/27/16 3:54am

Cameron / Flickr

I recently visited Party City and was horrified by what I found there. It was not the franchise, location or service that horrified me, but the merchandise inside the store itself. As I searched the aisles for a pair of “I’m a Mouse, Duh!” ears inspired by Karen Smith of “Mean Girls,” I instead came across the “Native American Princess,” “Hey Amigo Mexican” and “Homeboy” costumes. Halloween should be a time where we trick and treat (or attend a frat party and have major regrets on Nov. 1), whilst wearing our ghoul and goblin suits – not someone else’s culture.

Definitively, cultural appropriation is the adoption of one’s culture by members of another culture. Different than cultural appreciation, cultural appropriation can often strip a minority group of their identity because they are not given the recognition they deserve from the groups who appropriate them. For instance, let’s take the Kardashians. African-Americans have been ridiculed for wearing cornrows for years, often being painted as “thugs” or “ghetto” for wearing the protective hairstyle. Yet, when the Kardashian clan began to sport the same hairdo, cornrows turned into the new, creative and trendy “boxer braids.” It is certainly a slap in the face to those who have suffered the scrutinization of a style that is praised on someone of another culture. Furthermore, it is problematic when those who culturally appropriate do not understand the significance of the culture they are copying, but do it to look fashionable.

When you decide to stick a feather in your hair and slip on a pair of moccasins for Halloween, this isn’t a celebration of Native American culture; it’s an insult. American society has systematically eradicated our indigenous populations. Purchasing a Pocahontas costume because she is your favorite disney princess, and proceeding to attend a frat party and get wasted, is a further mockery of their culture. Dressing as a Geisha, Samurai or your second favorite disney princess, Mulan, is not you “just having fun,” but further helping to oppress a minority group. When you decide to wear a poncho and stick a sombrero on top of your head, you are not a Mexican, but an inaccurate stereotype of another ethnic group we continue to oppress.

It is also important to note that you can dress like specific celebrities and significant figures in history of a different culture, if done in a respectable manner. Want to be Kim Kardashian and Kanye West for Halloween? No problem. Just stay away from blackface by all means. You can continue to convey that you are dressed like Kanye West through fashion, accessories or a fake North West doll, but you do not need to look in the “Dark and Lovely” aisle for a foundation 10 shades darker than your complexion. Feel free to dress as Frida Kahlo, emphasizing her creative style, thick eyebrows and career as a painter. But imaginary characters like Mulan and Pocahontas are inseparable from the average Native or Japanese woman costume.

If you have the privilege to wear something safely, but others do not, don’t wear it. Minorities continue to suffer from discrimination, exploitation and violence because of their culture. Do not further violate and insult them by dressing as a stereotypical version of their cultural group.

Culture is not a costume.