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Halloween Costumes to Avoid (Cultural Appropriation Isn’t Cute)

Halloween is creeping up on us, and so is all the excitement of picking out and putting together a hot costume! My best friend has already come up with the cutest idea for us, and I know you’re all coming up with your own! As the leaves change and fall starts, everyone is just trying to have a pleasant autumn. People are trying to enjoy one nice thing this year without it being ruined by ignorance, the kind of ignorance that some Halloween goers seem to think is okay on October 31st. Cultural appropriation, of any degree, is never cute. Not before, not now, and not on Halloween. 

Yes, it’s 2020, and while a lot of what is said or done is meant as a joke or casual fun, when the base of the humor is in the mockery of a person that is different from you, it becomes disrespectful and insensitive. No one likes a narrow minded person; ignorance is never cute, even on Halloween. To make it more simple to understand, I’ve put together a list of useful points about Halloween cultural appropriation to assure that you and your BFFs are looking fine while looking educated at the same time!

What is Cultural Appropriation?

According to the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group, “Cultural Appropriation is the act of taking significant elements (symbols, dress, words, practices, etc.) from a culture that is not your own and removing all original context or meaning, usually with the goal of using these elements to make oneself seem “edgy” or to make a profit.” 

In short, cultural appropriation is harmful because when people not of a specific culture decide to make a costume representing that culture’s tradition, it undermines the significance behind that culture and all the struggles they’ve had to endure as a people. It’s nothing short of distasteful to be oblivious and nonchalant to the experiences of others. That shows a lack of empathy, compassion, knowledge, and education – don’t give yourself that stink. 

What does Cultural Appropriation Look Like?

Basically, any kind of dressing up as a “type” of person is cultural appropriation. A few examples include, but are not limited to:

A black or brown person

A homeless person

A disabled person

A plus-sized person

A trans or gay person

An ill person

If you cannot identify as the type of person you are dressing up as, and it’s one of these, it’s offensive, and I’m not sorry but you will look ridiculous. These are communities that have had to historically and presently fight and struggle for dignity and respect, that have had lives and land stripped from them, that have to live every single day with the constant gaze of disapproval from society. Not sharing these struggles, yet using their traditions as a costume is a display of dismissive privilege; where it’s outwardly obvious that you seem to have only struggled in different ways, so you don’t care about the ways in which others have been hurt. In other words, cultural appropriation is unoriginal and ugly. 

It’s Halloween, What’s the Big Deal?

Now I know there are people who still cannot understand why cultural appropriation is a serious problem, but it really is, and here’s why. Think back to the most trying event that has happened in your life. However big or small, just think about a time that you desperately needed help. Did you get the help you needed? Are you now in a better place because of that help? Most likely, the answer is yes (I hope it is, anyway). The people of these cultures and marginalized communities have been asking for help from society for centuries – crying out for equal opportunities, for a better life for their children. Marginalized cultures are proud of their traditions, they are proud of who they are, what they look like, and the value they bring to society; a lot of us just need help from everyone else to repair the damage done to us and our ancestors and, to prevent further hurt for future generations. 

The big deal about dressing up as a Native American, for instance, when you are in fact not native american, is that as you prance around with feathers and faux leather, the message you are sending is “Billions of natives were tortured and have died on the land I am standing on, and instead of honoring their culture and encouraging their people’s pursuit of justice and equality, or just being empathic to history, I have chosen to use their sacred dress for my own enjoyment and entertainment, because I come from such a place of privilege where I simply do not care to acknowledge any other aspect of my costume.”

Don’t send that message.

What Cultural Appropriation Does NOT Look Like.

It is so easy to be creative, but not insensitive to culture! One thing that is okay is to dress up as a specific individual person! Politicians, fictional characters, and celebrities are all appropriate costumes, since you are dressing like a person, not a type of person. However, this does not mean that black face, inappropriate mockery, etc. is acceptable, not that it ever is. Halloween is the one night a year that you can dress and be whatever you want, get creative! There are so many fun ideas everywhere you look, from social media to window shops. Get together with your friends and collab your costumes, you can even twin if you find one perfect enough! The possibilities are endless, literally just don’t be a jerk. 

The Larger Impact.

The most popular question that people seem to ask when confronted with larger than life issues is, “What difference can I make? I’m one person.” As for cultural appropriation on halloween, I’ll tell you the difference you will make: By you, one person, refusing to dress offensively as someone else’s culture, you are adding one more person to the number of people who are on the right side of history. You, your one self, are limiting  oppressive behavior by simply not participating in it. Moreover, if you commit to not dressing up ignorantly for Halloween, chances are your friends and family will do the same. When enough people can do this, the notion that cultural appropriation, stereotypes, or minority struggle is something that we should just “be okay with,” will disappear. If there is no tolerance for hatred and bigotry, then we will not have to deal with it, that’s the culture we are trying to build and progress towards. 

With that being said, this Halloween is going to be amazing! October 31st is on a Saturday and there is going to be a Full Moon, as well! Enjoy October and all of it’s chilly days filled with Pumpkin Spice and fuzzy blankets! Like I said, everyone just wants to have a good time this holiday season, let’s promise that, by at least being compassionate! 

Gabriela Guevara

CU Boulder '23

I am passionate about happiness and the freedom for people to feel love. As I am working towards a degree in Political Science and Ethnic Studies, & eventually law, I hope to inspire people to reflect, learn, and spread light. Thank you for reading my words! xoxo
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