Native American warrior. Arabian princess. Latino musician. Without context, these titles have little meaning. If these titles were grouped together in the category of Halloween costumes, however, you might just have a case of cultural appropriation.
For those who are unaware of what “cultural appropriation” is, Arizona State University Professor Neal Lester tells USA Today that the action is “taking elements of someone else’s culture without permission.” No other time of the year is this term heard more than around Halloween. For years, people have been able to get away with wearing offensive Halloween costumes that are caricatures of marginalized cultures. Within the past decade, however, people are calling others out for perpetuating stereotypes through Halloween costumes. Using the fun, candy-filled holiday of Halloween as an excuse to partake in cultural appropriation needs to be stopped because of the racial stereotypes, harmful messages and degradation these costumes encourage.
The past decade has brought much progress for discussions on hurtful and offensive stereotypes, but it is acts like cultural appropriation that halt these conversations and continue to encourage racist or prejudiced views. The costumes that take cultural aspects from Native Americans often depict them as primitive, brutish warriors, instead of showcasing the diverse and beautiful culture that truly exists amongst tribes. In the same boat, costumes exaggerating parts of Latino culture bolster harmful stereotypes, such as loving parties. Not only are these views outdated, but they continue to hinder discussions on how to better the future for minorities.
On Halloween, kids flock to the streets to get candy. During this time, they look around to see different costumes that people are wearing, including those of cultural appropriation. Children are more absorbent than many people give them credit for, and as a result, can mentally take in misinformation about cultures. If kids think these kinds of costumes are acceptable, they can develop expectations of racial or offensive stereotypes.
Perhaps the biggest offense costumes that culturally appropriate commit is the mockery they make of cultures that have already suffered throughout history. Making a costume out of Native American tribal wear and deeming it “sexy” is demeaning and humilating to a culture that has been oppressed longer than the United States has existed. This also applies to Latino culture, as the exaggerated depictions of sombreros and ponchos belittle the rich Latino culture that actually exists.
In response to the recent callouts against cultural appropriation, several people have claimed that offensive costumes are simply that: costumes. They claim that wearing these types of costumes is simply a fun game of dress-up and shouldn’t be taken seriously because it’s harmless. While these types of people may be right that wearing a costume is physically harmless, they don’t take into account the mental and social harm cultural appropriation can do. Not only do these types of costumes encourage dangerous mindsets and prejudices, but they can also ruin people’s pride for their own culture.
Many people can fall into the trap of cultural appropriation, so the best course of action this Halloween is to be more diligent when it comes to picking out your costume. If you want to be sure you stay respectful this spooky season, doing research or asking knowledgeable people is a great way to stay informed. To be extra careful, however, there is nothing wrong with wearing a simple and silly costume. You can never go wrong with Batman or the red M&M!