Understanding Cultural Appropriation & Appreciation Just in Time for Halloween

Halloween is right around the corner, which means finding the perfect last-minute costume and figuring out how you can still celebrate while staying safe this year. This also means that the conversation about what’s considered appropriation or appreciation of another culture is more relevant than ever. It’s time to learn the difference between the two so everyone can enjoy the Halloween festivities.​ two skeletons Photo by NeONBRAND from Unsplash

First, we have to understand cultural appropriation before we can identify it. Cultural appropriation is the use of elements belonging to a specific culture by someone of another culture. This can be problematic when members of a dominant culture appropriate things belonging to minority cultures. The main issue with cultural appropriation is picking elements out of a culture and disregarding the original significance or history of that culture in order to use it for personal interests. Cultural appropriation is also directly connected to stereotypes, and picking and choosing elements from another culture for fun or to stand out at a party does nothing but perpetuate these stereotypes.

 So how is cultural appreciation different from appropriation? The biggest difference is that cultural appreciation honors another culture and its practices as a way to better understand it. This can be done by attending traditional ceremonies, visiting countries to learn about their history or learning a language that you’ve always found interesting. A big part of appreciating a culture is learning from or being led by people from that specific culture. Cultural appreciation is a great way to learn about the people around you and connect with others when done respectfully. person holding small globe Photo by Valentin Antonucci from Pexels


Halloween is a notorious night for cultural appropriation. Many costumes that depict people from other cultures are solely based on stereotypes and can be offensive to people from those cultures. Sombreros, fake afros and “sexy” versions of traditional headwear and clothing are all common Halloween costumes that do more harm than good to the cultures they’re supposed to represent. The elements of these costumes hold a greater significant meaning to the cultures they’re taken from, and the issue arises when that significance is disregarded for the sake of an outfit.

Cultural appropriation can be very harmful, especially when picking and choosing elements of a culture without acknowledging the significance of the element in said culture. This is very evident in inappropriate Halloween costumes that depict the stereotypes of other cultures as a “funny” or “sexy” party outfit. Cultural appropriation can be avoided by understanding the difference between appropriation and appreciation. Learning about other cultures from the people in those cultures is an effective way to connect with other people in a respectful manner. Understanding the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation can prevent the use of inappropriate Halloween costumes, and allow everyone to enjoy the spooky season. 

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