Halloween gives everyone celebrating the greatest excuse to dress up and be whoever they want to be. While kids can enjoy the whole trick-or-treat extravaganza, adults get this one day to wear their costumes, attend the parties and drink all the pumpkin flavored punch they can. However, all the ghosts and monsters aren’t the scariest thing about Halloween anymore. It’s the offensive ensembles that promote cultural appropriation.
Many people don’t understand the idea of cultural appropriation on a day like Halloween. “It’s just a costume” or “have a sense of humor” are common phrases used as excuses. Really, though, it’s not like minorities don’t have to face discrimination on a daily basis in general. You wearing their culture as a costume doesn’t make it any better.
You might think dressing up as a Hindu goddess is oh so fun. Or you might want to go as a Native American, all set in your feather headdress. Or you may put on that kimono, do a ton of makeup to look like a Japanese person and pretend you just love sushi. Unfortunately for you, none of these are “costumes.” They’re part of respected traditions and aren’t for you to borrow for your amusement.
Here are some easy ways to successfully dress up on Halloween without being that offensive jerk.
1. Do not put up a brown face or a black face
Okay, you love Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. I get it. It doesn’t mean you get to paint your face black and talk in a way you’ve deemed “hood.” Do not do that. Similarly, don’t put on a brown face and talk in that annoying and fake South Asian accent. No one wants to see that ever.
2. When did non-cultural costumes get old?
I don’t get it. Halloween is supposed to be scary. In many ways, that’s how you’re celebrating it. You’ve decorated your house with skeletons and spider webs and fake blood. You’re probably binge-watching scary movies. What’s wrong with sticking to the vampire and witch costumes? Be a demon or fairy. Or hey, superheroes and movie characters never get old. You just Wonder Woman is going to be a hit costume this year.
3. Your choice of costume can be a real trigger in today’s world
It’s unbelievable how many stores sell costumes of “Muslim terrorists” or Nazis and Holocaust victims. If you buy and wear one of those, you’re perpetuating a very difficult political climate that the country is in right now. It goes beyond being offensive. Last year, Kim Kardashian’s whole robbery ordeal in Paris was simmered down to a horrible kidnap victim costume. Similarly, you don’t need to be a “slutty geisha” or a “slutty Mexican,” wearing only a sombrero and a mini-dress. Please don’t sexualize women and minorities. Take one glimpse at the news and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
4. Learn about the culture if you want to use it
The least you can do if you want to dress up as an Indian princess and wear a sari (not a real costume!) is make the effort to learn about what a sari actually means. Ask your South Asian friend about the significance of something almost every woman wears on a daily basis. Don’t put on baggy pants and have dreadlocks and go to a party without being ready to have a conversation. Don’t be ignorant.
5. Cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation
It’s a fine line between the two. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with admiring different cultures. America is such a melting pot. That’s what makes it great. It’s normal to be intrigued by people who come from diverse background. Apply that intrigue in smarter ways than using it as a costume one day of the year and never bothering with it again. At the same time, you may be in your brilliant Darth Vader costume but you’re going to see people who are dressed inappropriately and it will offend you. But if you pull them over to give them a lecture when they’re a few drinks down, it won’t lead anywhere. Your best bet is to politely educate people about this time and again.
Halloween is supposed to be fun. I mean, what other holiday promotes freely accepting candy from strangers? Halloween gives you a break from reality. That’s why when you pick a costume, be aware of what it means. Give that person who you’re dressing up as an actual break.