How to Avoid Appropriating Cultures this Halloween

Photo via Envato Elements

Halloween can be a night of incredible creativity where celebrants can dress up in fantastical costumes that sometimes can take days, weeks and even months to put together.

For the ignorant, however, it can also be a night of insensitivity and cultural appropriation.

Photo via Envato Elements


First and foremost, what is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is the insensitive borrowing and commodification of cultural references.

Blackface is never an exception to this rule. At all, ever. Blackface was created specifically to make fun of African Americans, and has a history of racism and hatred behind it.

Although there are cases of African Americans taking back this costume and interpreting it in their own way, that is different from non-black people dressing up as black people by using blackface as a costume. That in of itself is wrong.

Don’t dress up as a stereotype. If you have questions such as “is this costume a stereotype,” then one, you may want to branch out more, and two, it probably is. The key to this is that everyone looks like people. What does that mean? Exactly that. You shouldn’t look at someone you don’t know and say, “That person looks like a Mexican,” or “That person looks like a Jew.” It’s offensive, and what does that even mean? If someone asks you to explain why you think that person looks like that identity and you feel uncomfortable explaining it, then you’re stereotyping.

Photo via Envato Elements

Don’t dress up as a stereotype.

Basically, if you need to take a pause and wonder if other people will find your costume offensive, change it.

Mexicans don’t wear sombreros while carrying maracas and tequila bottles. And so on. Honestly, it’s really uncomfortable that some people really do want to dress like another human, especially when there are so many things to do as a costume instead.

And although this is usually a U.S. issue, it doesn’t mean that this doesn’t happen in other countries as well, just probably on different levels.


But, thinking about it, where’s the line between dressing up as someone who may not be your ethnicity and doing it from an honest place, to actually committing cultural appropriation?

What’s the difference between a grown woman dressing up as a slutty Pocahontas and a small child wanting to dress up as Moana? One could argue knowledge and experience. How are we supposed to expect a child to understand how the Hawaiian people, especially the indigenous ones, are made to be exotic tourist attractions while ignoring their health and education needs? We should, however, hold grown individuals to higher standards. We should hold people who dress up as oppressed people accountable for their actions. This is how we can actually grow as a society.

Photo via Envato Elements
Photo via Envato Elements

We don’t like to admit when we’re wrong, and maybe at this point everyone says that everyone gets easily offended by everything. This is an excuse on some level. Sure, maybe some people actually do get offended by little things that should be moved past, but saying that also lets these issues slide. They never get fixed that way, especially in our political climate.

All in all, culturally appropriative costumes on Halloween are probably going to happen, but this will be due to lack of education and awareness. Children don’t understand this yet, but they soon will be exposed to it. And what may be culturally appropriative in one country doesn’t mean it won’t be in another.

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