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A Quick PSA About Halloween and Cultural Appropriation

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.

As Halloween approaches, students begin to scan their options for a perfect costume for the season.

Whether that be a pop culture reference, a trusty cat or a favorite cartoon character, everyone loves the opportunity to become something (or someone) else for the night.

However, this opportunity invites a lot of people to take this idea too far by overstepping the boundaries of what is right to replicate or not.

With so many examples of historical misuse in the media, and the fact that the first isle seen when walking into a costume store is full of “Native American” wear, cultural appropriation is still a topic that needs to be brought up and talked about to this day. 

Cultural appropriation is defined as taking elements of someone else’s culture without permission.

In this sense, it’s about fashion and wear. Usually this is in reference to a majority taking elements from a minority, but it’s still possible for anyone to appropriate any aspect of one’s culture.

It represents a power dynamic that marginalizes a particular set of people and delegitimizes a part of their history and identity.

Living in America, there can be a struggle to understand the differences between having “multicultural appreciation” and respecting it as its own entity without tampering with it.

Cultural appreciation is about having that respect, whether you choose to involve yourself in it or not.

It all comes down to the context of how and why you’re partaking in a culture that isn’t representative of your identity.

One of the first documented instances of cultural appropriation in the United States came in the form of minstrel shows that were meant to produce a comedic enactment of stereotypes, specifically African Americans in the 19th century.

From there, a plethora of similar acts reaching towards other races continued throughout the 20th and beginning of the 21st century.

Fashion companies have been under fire for misrepresenting different cultures, such as Gucci displaying white models with turbans and bindis on their runway, as well as other designers creating clothes that pose an underlying jab towards POC without crediting or paying homage to the significance of what it was made for.

College students have been reported wearing blackfacemusic festivals are still a hub for reducing traditions to fashion pieces, and many celebrities have been under fire for making those same mistakes.

Costume stores are a prime offender of overlooking these symbols and give easy access for misuse of many culture’s symbols, often times in an extremely sexual way. 

As I have never personally experienced cultural appropriation first-hand, I wanted to gain insight from girls who have to connect their perspectives. 

Amanda Martinez, a 20-year-old telecommunications senior, stated, “personally, I’ve always hated going into stores to buy costumes because they’re either sexist or racist. As a Latina woman, I especially despise the costumes that stereotype my community (like the “cholo” costumes or the ones with sombreros and mustaches). That’s why for the last seven years, I’ve worn the same dog costume for Halloween.”

Gayathri Kotha, an 18-year-old biology major, expresses her indifference in regards to people of other cultures dressing up as an Indian: “As long as they aren’t disrespecting the culture.”

Stephany Matat, an 18-year-old journalism major, recalls her experience: “So I was raised in a Muslim household, and my family is Egyptian. When I was in middle school, I went to this Halloween event in which one of the hosts was wearing the thawb, a traditional garment for men, and a keffiyeh [a traditional Arab headdress]. I was wearing a Bellatrix costume because I love Harry Potter. He came up to me and asked me what [I was], in which I told him. He replied, ‘Cool, I’m a terrorist.’ As much as I understand that many people try to put it as a joke, it’s not. As a Muslim, I’ve been oppressed for as long as I can remember by being called a terrorist.”

Gaining hands-on experience at the discretion of the people who belong to a specific culture is an amazing opportunity to broaden your horizons.

However, the concept of dressing up as someone purely for the “aesthetic” or to make a joke isn’t the angle we’re going for in 2019.

If you’re having questions as to whether a certain costume could be considered offensive or not, think of the three S’s:

Source: Is this a culture that has been historically discriminated against or oppressed?

Similarity: Are you interpreting the culture or copying it? 

Significance: What is the significance? Is it a cultural norm or a sacred concept? 

You can’t reduce a culture to a costume.

Artifacts are not accessories.

If you are having second thoughts about whether something is okay to wear, just don’t wear it at all!

There are so many other cute, acceptable costumes that will get your point across.  After all, it’s only one night.