Cultural Appropriation on Halloween

The best part about Halloween is getting to reinvent yourself for just one night. You can dress up as your favorite character from a movie, or you can draw whiskers on your cheeks and call yourself a cat. The options are endless. However, there are a few costumes you should stay away from.

Avoid costumes that represent a racial or ethnic stereotype. For example, don’t dress up as a Native American princess or a ninja because those costumes represent real people and real cultures. Using someone else’s culture as a costume is a common form of cultural appropriation. According to, cultural appropriation is:

“the adoption or co-opting, usually without acknowledgment, of cultural identity markers associated with or originating in minority communities by people or communities with a relatively privileged status.”

Therefore, wearing someone’s culture as a costume is dehumanizing, offensive, and overall distasteful because it reduces someone’s life to a costume that can be taken off. Here is a list of some of the most popular ‘costumes’ that are culturally appropriative and insensitive.

  • Native American ‘costumes’

According to NPR, “there is always the generic ‘Native American’ costume of the woman or man wearing fringe, fake suede, feathers and braids.” These costumes not only reduce Native American culture to a stereotype, but they also mock a group of oppressed people who suffered a violent history in our country. The costumes also usually represent an outdated version of Native American culture, one that is a reminder of how Indigenous people were displaced and mistreated by colonization. Stay away from these costumes.

  • Mexican ‘costumes’

Costumes that require you to put on a sombrero, a poncho, and a mustache are definitely not okay because they represent an inaccurate stereotype about Mexican people. Additionally, a common culturally appropriated part of Mexican culture is the Day of the Dead. It is a Mexican holiday that uses the symbol of the sugar skull. Because the holiday is celebrated on November 1, people assume it is synonymous with Halloween. It’s not.

  • Blackface

In the simplest terms, blackface is the act of painting one’s own skin a darker complexion. However, the meaning is much deeper than that. When white people do blackface, they are invoking the racist past that blackface represents. According to CNN, roughly 200 years ago, “white performers first started painting their faces black to mock enslaved Africans in minstrel shows across the United States.” In the shows, the performers would depict Black people as being lazy and uneducated, thus creating a stereotype about a community of people. Doing blackface is racist, ignorant, and demeaning. Do not do blackface.

  • Ninja ‘costumes’

There is a common misconception about ninjas because movies and television shows often present them as someone who dresses in all black, knows a form of martial arts, and is good with a sword. However, according to Bustle, ninjas are “real people who existed in Japan and did similar work to our modern-day CIA.” Ninja costumes are not only inaccurate, but they are offensive and dehumanizing.

You should also stay away from wearing hijabs, saris, kimonos, and any other article of clothing that holds value to a race, culture, or religion. It is important to remember that cultures that are different from your own are not costumes for you to dress up as.

You may also be wondering why it is appropriate to dress up as a doctor, a nurse, a police officer, or a firefighter. Those are real people too, right? Well, yes, but there’s a major difference between dressing up as a profession and dressing up as a person who was born into a culture. Doctors choose to be doctors, and they are only doctors for a certain number of hours per day. However, people of color didn’t get to choose their culture; they were born with it and can’t just take it off.

If you are wondering whether your costume is appropriate or cultural appropriation, it might be best to choose a completely different costume that does not have you questioning it. Costumes that represent a culture that is not your own or mimics a group of marginalized people are unacceptable. Be compassionate and self-aware this Halloween.