Cultural appropriation is not appropriate

Photo credit: Rewon Shimray

Spooky season (also known as Halloween) is rapidly approaching, and with it comes a taxing decision that each of us must make: what costume to choose this year?

While dressing up can be lots of fun and lets us express our creativity, sometimes costumes start to cross the line, and others are downright offensive. This being said, while some people mean to “offend” by their outfit decisions, others don’t even realize that their costumes aren’t appropriate until after someone says something.

But where do we draw the line? Is there even a line drawn? Interestingly enough, there isn’t a clear line, but there are guidelines that we can follow to ensure everyone has a holiday where they can show their creativity without appropriating other cultures.

One of the most common things to do on Halloween is to reverse roles, to dress as someone famous, governmental figures or fictional characters in order to get a laugh or two. But when we start wearing the stereotypes of cultures who have been oppressed in the past or are currently being oppressed, things start to go south.

One of the first guidelines to aid one in choosing their outfit is to never, ever wear blackface, dress as anything Native American or as any sort of culture in general. Cultures are not meant to be worn or stereotyped, they are meant to be appreciated.

There is no certain time when blackface began, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was used to demean African Americans; to portray them as lazy, slobbish and unworthy of anything other than a few laughs. This spurred on prejudices for the African Americans that could not be erased for years and wearing it is outright disrespectful and demeaning.

In terms of Native American dress, it’s never appropriate to wear. First of all, it’s disrespectful to their culture, when they’ve experienced so much pain and suppression in the past. In addition, some of the pieces that are worn as costumes are sacred in their culture, such as headdresses and beads. In Native American culture, headdresses are built from eagle feathers that are earned by hard work and worthiness. The beads on the dresses are also sacred, as a prayer is put into each bead before it is sewn onto the clothing.

Halloweencostumes.com recently released one of their newest Halloween costumes, an Anne Frank costume for girls. While the company states that it is meant to remember and honor her, a children’s Halloween costumes is not the way to do it. After getting such negative feedback, the company has stopped selling the costume.

This is a prime example of people not being sensitive to grievances and tragedies in our history seriously. These are not things we should joke about or dress up as; we need to give different cultures and tragedies the honor and respect they deserve.

On a different note, sexuality is another controversial subject that Halloween often brings to the table. Some women, with the holiday to give them a reason, enjoy dressing sexy and revealing. While each person has the ability to choose how they want to dress and how much they want to reveal, there are some issues when one begins sexualizing a culture.

As has been brought up in past editorials, in some cultures, women still do not have many rights. Even worse, in some cultures women are forced to be sexual objects, they have no choice. For example, when one decides to dress as the sexualized version of a woman in another culture that is sexually harassed, they are disrespecting the fact that these women are hurting and in need. One example is when people dressed as a sexualized version of a gypsy, when these women are subjected to harassment daily.

Overall, Halloween is a time to have fun and be creative, but to also be sensitive to past events and aware that insensitive costumes are not funny. If all else fails, the best idea is to dress as a mythical character or as a culture that no longer exists, such as Vikings or a pirates. Support a lighthearted Halloween, be sensitive and be informed on how appreciate cultures by giving them the respect and value they deserve.

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