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How to Have Fun on Halloween and Respect Cultures

Every year, hundreds of costumes are released to the public for Halloween: classics like a witch or pirate, new costumes inspired by recent blockbusters, the sexy of version of everything from Spongebob to Mother Theresa, of course, and let’s not forget that every year without fail, there are the costumes that both mock and appropriate cultures.

These costumes have always been around, but recently the appropriated cultures and their allies’ complaints are finally gaining traction. This doesn’t stop companies from selling the offending products, however. It is up to the public to show that the racial stereotyping and belittling of cultures and their traditions for profit will not be tolerated.

But how do you know if a costume is insulting?

Cultural appropriation is defined as “the adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.” “Cultural” costumes fall under the category of cultural misappropriation because the originating cultures find the product to be portraying them in a harmful or disrespectful way.

Now, a picture of a costume has already come to mind, more than likely (it’s not exactly hard to come up with one), but here are some examples. 

You probably thought of sexy (insert culture), and you are correct—any costume like this that objectifies a culture is misappropriation

What you probably didn’t realize was that this costume is appropriation as well. A costume doesn’t have to be sexy to be misappropriating a culture. If you don’t belong to or understand a culture, you shouldn’t dress as one of its members.

Any costume that portrays a culture as a negative stereotype is not okay. Can you imagine being a kid excited for Halloween only to walk out onto the street and see people dressed up, indirectly mocking you? It’s not okay, it has never been okay, and it should never be okay.

But where do you draw the line?

If you’re dressing up as a character of a different race that’s fine; Pocahontas, Moana, Tiana, there’s nothing inappropriate or disrespectful about it. Now if you try to get a bit too into character, and let’s say decided to paint your face? That’s a definite no. Not to say that face painting is bad. If you paint your face green to be a witch or alien? Okay. White for a vampire or zombie? Sure. But anything that tries to suggest you are a different race? I would stay away.

Know about your costume. If all you need is a quick Google search then you’re in the clear, but if you need years of cultural immersion to understand, you might want to look for a different costume.

What if I’m unsure about a costume?


Reaching out to a friend of that ethnicity or even Googling shows that you care and that you want to respect a culture and that means more than you realize. The fact is, most of the time it’s pretty easy to tell if a costume is respectful to wear.

Just because you can’t wear a culture as a costume doesn’t mean you can’t learn about it. It’s important to know this because you can respectfully appreciate a culture and understand it rather than taking something about it and turning it into a trend.

It might be too late, but if your costume falls under anything written here as not being okay, you might need to go shopping.




Melissa Locke

Pepperdine '21

This is my senior year of college and I'm a Public Relations major with a Creative Writing outside concentration. I was born and raised in So-Cal and love it so much I couldn't go too far. As much as South California is my home, I adore traveling and learning about other cultures. A Disney fan to the core you can find me watching any of their movies, or breaking my bank account at Disneyland, and if not I'll probably be reading, writing, or enjoying the Malibu climate. 
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