Cultural Appropriation and Halloween: It's Not Okay

Dude, just don't.

Please stop. This isn't okay.

Literally anything else would be better.

Except that. 

In sixth grade, I dressed up as a “gypsy” for Halloween. I thought the term to be equivalent with “fortune teller” and did not even know that there is a living group of people associated with this (derogatory) word. This word is still used as an ethnic slur against Romani people, especially in European countries, who continue to be stereotyped as lower class, fortune-telling thieves. I only use it here because it is so normalized in our society that readers wouldn’t understand if I wrote “the g word” in its place.

Halloween is a magical and fun day; it’s a day for breaking down barriers, and an invitation to let loose and get your freak on without fear of judgment. It’s a time to get creative, be scared, binge on candy, and have a great time. However, if your idea of getting your “freak on” is to portray a harmful stereotype or strip something important (like a bindi or a headdress) of its meaning, think again. These kinds of costumes reinforce the idea that whiteness is the norm, and put cultures that don’t fit into that mold in the “other” category. If you go through with your plan, at best, you will make the minorities around you feel unsafe and reinforce horrible patterns of oppression and racism.

“Being Xicana during Halloween means people assume that using Dia de los Muertos attire is in good seasonal taste,” said Mason Santos, a student at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. “I’ve seen the erasure of the original meaning of the holiday as it’s been combined with Halloween without permission and used as a means of profit. As both an activist and a business student I know and see that appropriation is, in the end, at the bottom line, disregarding how [costumes such as this] influence the lack of respect in this country for my people.”

Okay, so maybe you don’t consider yourself prejudiced. Maybe you like and respect native culture, so why not be a “Sexy Indian Girl”? Spoiler alert: there are a lot of reasons as to why this is an awful decision. First of all, the existence of Native American people and the genocide they experienced continues to be erased from mass media, our education system, and our history books. By dressing up as a caricature of native people, you only further fictionalize and erase their true nature. In addition, Native American women, in addition to many women of color, are often over sexualized in their portrayal in mainstream media. This could contribute to the fact that 1 in 3 Native American women will experience rape in their lifetime—twice the average. Just because you don’t believe in stereotypes doesn’t mean you can’t perpetuate them.

Cultural appropriation is an issue year-round, but there’s something about Halloween that makes people think they can do whatever they want to do. Newsflash: well, you can, but please don’t if what you want do is wear a sombrero and make taco jokes all night when we all know you’re as white as stale bread. Trust me, that’s not fun, creative, or at all okay. That’s racist. Do not use Halloween to portray disrespectful and hurtful stereotypes. Be aware, be respectful, and be tasteful. I’m not saying this to be mean or to ruin your Halloween plans. I’m saying this because I wish someone had said the same to that little girl going to school in sixth grade.