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How to Have a Culturally Sensitive Halloween

Halloween is almost here, and that means college students across the country are scrambling to find the perfect outfit for the day of. However, there are some things to keep in mind when deciding what to go as. Either knowingly or unknowingly, many students end up dressing up in a manner that can be deemed inappropriate or disrespectful. The first steps to combating this issue are education and awareness, so read on to see how you can have a more culturally sensitive Halloween!

What is cultural appropriation?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, cultural appropriation is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.” Basically, it is using elements of a culture as a costume in a harmful or unwelcome way.

What is the difference between appropriation and appreciation?

There is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. Basically, there are ways to show appreciation for other cultures besides dressing in items of cultural significance. For example, you can try the food of another culture and discuss it with other people. However, simply dressing up in a costume is not appreciation, because how can you appreciate something you know nothing about?

Why does cultural appropriation matter?

Culture is not a costume. By choosing to dress up as a stereotype of a specific culture, you are literally choosing to reduce the heritage of that culture to a costume. In addition, many of these so-called “costumes” are of historically marginalized groups in society. It is hurtful and offensive to dress up as these people for a day, without a full understanding of the struggles people of these communities have faced. Additionally, it sends a message that their culture is something that can be worn and then easily discarded and forgotten. In mainstream media, there have been many instances of different items of cultural significance becoming “cool” or “trendy” once a celebrity wears it. Often people coming from places of privilege unknowingly appropriate a culture. By purchasing these cheap Halloween costumes, you are only buying into the stereotypes that they portray, and hurting the communities they impact.

How do I know what is ok to wear?

As a general rule of thumb, if you are worried that your costume might be culturally insensitive, it is probably best to find a different one. Even if you are wearing it with the best intentions, you don’t want your well-meaning outfit to be misinterpreted, and cause someone offens. If you still aren’t sure, here are a few questions you can ask yourself. First, where is this costume coming from? Is it from a culture that has been historically discriminated against? If the answer is yes, it’s probably best not to wear it. Next, what is the significance of your costume? For example, some items, such as a bindi, war paint, certain tattoo or a headdress, have significant cultural meaning, and should not be worn carelessly. In addition, skin color should never be a costume. Whenever choosing a costume, you need to constantly question your intentions, purposes and goals.

With that being said, Halloween is still a fun holiday. Don’t let these guidelines make you feel like you can’t be creative with your costume. Being sensitive to cultural issues other communities face can only increase everyone’s enjoyment of Halloween. There are still plenty of options that are cute, and that don’t appropriate a culture! If you stick to these guidelines, you are sure to have a fun and culturally appropriate Halloween. Happy costume hunting!

Jaime Gonora

Northeastern '21

Hi! My name is Jaime (My pronouns are she/her/hers). I am a second year student at Northeastern University, majoring in Computer Science and Design. I grew up in Central New Jersey (I swear it exists!) but I am proud to call Boston my second home. In my free time I enjoy learning new languages, making Youtube videos, and trying out new recipes in the kitchen with my friends. Fun Fact: I spend all my money on bubble tea!
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