Culturally Appropriated Costumes Cross Line


Sonia Rao

Halloween costume stereotypically depicting non-descript native culture

Sonia Rao, Staff Writer

Last night was Halloween, and celebrators of all different ages dressed in costumes from superheroes and princesses to witches and zombies.  Other popular costumes included political parodies or the old stand-by ghost or pumpkin, but often trick-or-treaters and party-goers choose costumes that cross the boundary between a show of appreciation for an icon and a transgression of something else: appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is a term that does not arise in most everyday conversations.  To clarify, cultural appropriation occurs when people of one culture use elements of another culture for their benefit.  In reference to Halloween, this would include dressing up in costumes meant to resemble traditional Native-American attire or painting your face white and donning a kimono in an attempt to be a Geisha Girl. Actions such as these can be seen as offensive due to the fact that they are insinuating a culture’s native dress is a costume, when in reality, cultural garments are genuine links to a group’s heritage.

Cultural appropriation is a term that does not arise in most everyday conversations. ”

It is worth discussing where one needs to draw the line between appreciative and offensive. Painting one’s skin darker to resemble someone of another race should always be a definite NO.  Harmful trends such as blackface can be traced back to malignant stereotypes portrayed by non-black performers in 19th century theater and later in 20th century television shows.  Dressing in the traditional clothing or accessories that hold cultural significance and should be treated with reverence within a particular group should also be avoided.

Most costumes available in the average store are factory-made, cheap, and constructed of synthetic materials – hardly accurately aligned with the original dress or attire.  In addition, these mass-produced costumes perpetuate untrue stereotypes such as the notion that all Native-Americans wear feathers.  Other examples of inappropriate costumes include Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) costumes that makes light of a significant Mexican and Latin American holiday. And although Selena Gomez, Gwen Stefani, and even Beyoncé have donned the Indian sari and bindi, being a “Bollywood Princess” for Halloween should not be seen as exotic.

All this aside, the most important step to combating cultural appropriation is, first and foremost, education. Although Halloween is now over and last night’s costume is atop a pile of laundry or neatly hung back up in a closet, the next time you prepare for Halloween, consider the culture of the costume you are wearing.  Halloween is perfect for pretending to be someone else for the night, but it’s not okay if that also appropriates someone else’s culture for the night.