Halloween Costumes and Cultural Appropriation

Halloween is an excuse to buy copious amounts of chocolate on special from stores, go to one of Cape Town’s creepy Halloween events and dress up as some of your favourite characters because it’s the one time that you can without being judged.

 

 

Dress up played a huge part of my life and still does but there is a limit to what exactly you can dress up as.

“But you just said you can dress up without being judged!”

Let me explain.

 

What is cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation?

Rosanna Deerchild, a Canadian radio host of Unreserved, a radio program, that shares music, cultures and stories from indigenous people across Canada stated, “Cultural appropriation is when someone takes elements from a culture that is not their own and remakes and reduces it to a meaningless pop-cultural item.”

An example would be how ‘trendy’ it’s become to wear tribal make-up and wear feathered headdresses. Traditionally, headdresses are only given to a leader who’s earned the right to wear one. It takes years for leaders to earn one and there are ceremonies, protocol and wearing those headdresses plays on dangerous stereotypes of those people. Cultural appropriation takes years worth of genocide, racism and oppression and erases it with a costume that holds no meaning to the culture. Cultural appreciation is when there is time taken into learning and education oneself about the history and interact with it. It can help by gaining an understanding of the culture that’s different from your own. How can one appreciate culture? Know the collective history of both sides. Not just yours and theirs separately but together. Know how your history affected one another and grow through it.

 

Image from Independent

 

Pharrell Williams faced backlash for donning a traditional headdress on the front cover of Elle magazine. He apologized and said that he had Native American ancestors but the Indian Country Media Network disagreed. They stated, “The right to wear an eagle-feather ceremonial bonnet is earned over the course of a person’s lifetime and presented as “symbols of honour and respect”.

“Here's another way of looking at it: Many of the people who are appalled by this image are deeply connected to their Native culture and live it every day. If they say the picture is hurtful, it's hurtful, and a Cherokee grandmother doesn't change that,” one user commented.

 

Cultural appropriation and how it fits in with Halloween

Halloween allows people to dress up as whatever they want but there is a fine line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. There is a history to famous people like Pocahontas, who was a living human and Disney romanticized her story. Despite Pocahontas being one of my favourite Disney princess movies, dressing up as her for any event would be seen as cultural appropriation. Her outfit is traditional Native American wear, has symbolic meaning to the Native American culture and wearing it as a costume would be disrespectful.

 

 

What NOT to wear for Halloween

Blackface, yellowface, whitewashing are the obvious ones but Native American, any transphobic/homophobic costumes, Hawaiian or any sort of Day of the Dead symbolism often get overlooked. Those costumes degrade these races/ethnicities and enhance the stereotypes of those people. Check out this website for what costumes you should avoid this Halloween.

 

How do I address this with my friends/family who think I’m being ‘too sensitive’ about cultural appropriation?

Trying to explain appropriation might be difficult and there will be arguments such as ‘But you’re taking the fun out of it!’ or ‘So what we can’t dress up as anything fun now?’ but holding you’re stance on something you believe in is important. Taking someone’s culture and diminishing it to an aesthetic for people to enjoy is not okay at all. Knowing history about cultures will help but if they don’t listen, don’t force your opinion on them. Back in 2016, Chris Hemsworth publicly apologized on Instagram for dressing as a Native American at a New Year’s Eve party in 2015.

Hemsworth wrote, “I would also like to take this opportunity to raise something that has been bothering me for sometime. Last New Year’s Eve I was at a ‘Lone Ranger’ themed party where some of us, myself included, wore the traditional dress of First Nations people. I was stupidly unaware of the offence this may have caused and the sensitivity around this issue. I sincerely and unreservedly apologise to all First Nations people for this thoughtless action.”

It’s never too late to learn and own up to mistakes like Chris did. One extra person knowing about how appropriation affects a culture or ethnicity is better than staying silent about it.

 




View this post on Instagram


Standing with those who are fighting to protect their sacred land and water. #nodapl #waterislife #mniwiconi @taikawaititi I would also like to take this opportunity to raise something that has been bothering me for sometime. Last New Year's Eve I was at a "Lone Ranger" themed party where some of us, myself included, wore the traditional dress of First Nations people. I was stupidly unaware of the offence this may have caused and the sensitivity around this issue. I sincerely and unreservedly apologise to all First Nations people for this thoughtless action. I now appreciate that there is a great need for a deeper understanding of the complex and extensive issues facing indigenous communities. I hope that in highlighting my own ignorance I can help in some small way.

A post shared by Chris Hemsworth (@chrishemsworth) on

 

So, what to wear for Halloween then?

There’s tons of rich literature and movie characters for one to dress up as without appropriating culture or being creepy. Use books, horror movies and cartoons for inspiration or nature! Dress up is a place for creativity to bloom and use it to the best of your ability. Personal favourites of mine are Glam and Gore on YouTube, Michelle Phan and Madeyewlook.

 

Image by Boredpanda

 

 

 

There’s plenty of tutorials on YouTube and ideas online so feel free to go all out! Have a great Halloween and stay safe!