Halloween is a cherished holiday for many around the world. However, every year, thousands of people wear insensitive, culturally-appropriated costumes such as ‘Sultry Indian Hottie Native American Babe Costume,’ ‘Geisha Glam Woman Sexy Geisha Costume,’ ‘Follow the Ruler Sexy Cleopatra Costume,’ – all actually listed on various websites. Also sometimes seen is black face – the process of using hair, tanning, makeup and apparel to appear black. While costume design is an undeniable part of the fun of Halloween, one simply cannot ignore the history of imperialism, colonialism and subjugation many of these so-called ‘exotic’ and ‘sexy’ costumes came from. Many of these ‘harmless’ costumes contribute to the fetishization of people from these cultures endure.
It is, in fact, extremely easy not to wear a culturally-appropriated costume. When you are scrolling on Amazon, and you see the Native American costume, just keep scrolling. When the ad on Sparknotes pops up with something like ‘Sexy Egyptian Goddess,’ do not click on it. Another easy rule to follow? If you think that your costume of choice might be problematic, do not wear it. Better to go in a plain shirt and jeans as an M&M than go as something potentially insensitive.
Cultural appropriation is vastly different from cultural appreciation. Appropriation happens when someone from outside a specific culture wears culturally specific clothes, makeup, jewelry, hairstyles, tattoos or other culturally significant symbols while ignoring the historical and current contexts of those symbols. White people are especially prone to this, which ignores centuries of European cultures colonizing nations in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia, and stripping the people there of their cultures. Examples include non-black people wearing hairstyles such as box braids and cornrows, or ‘tribal’ tattoos.
Cultural appreciation is when someone learns about another culture to broaden their perspective and connect with others who are from different backgrounds. A great example of cultural appreciation could be the following. Say you are really interested in Hinduism. You can learn Hindi or any of the other languages of the culture, research Hindu culture and history and support Hindu-owned businesses. Even though you are knowledgeable on the culture, it could be insensitive to wear a sari, bindi or any other culturally-specific style. Doing your own research and talking to people within the culture you are interested in is the best way to show your appreciation for a culture. If a group of people practicing Hinduism invite you to an event to wear traditional dress, of course, explore that if you are comfortable. The biggest thing to remember here is that a culture’s traditional clothing is not a costume. Many people have explained the subject better than I ever could in this little article, so I highly encourage all of you reading this to look into this subject on your own time.
Happy Halloween, everyone!