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Halloween Reminder: Cultures Are Not Costumes

Illustration by Portia Barrientos

Illustration by Portia Barrientos

Written by Sami Reeves

Now I know I’m not the only one thrilled for Halloween since it is roughly a week away. But, Halloween is not only a time for sweets and scary movies, it is also a time for cultural appropriation.

People of color must dread this night. Regardless of whether your costume was picked out with innocent intentions out of ignorance of our world’s deeply rooted racism or not, your costume still reinforces harmful stereotypes and stigmas. Which then, in turn, welcomes more aggressive racist attitudes. Not only white people wear other cultures as a costume of course, but a vast majority of us do and it’s about time we learn the difference between appropriation and appreciation.

 Cultural appropriation is when someone steals aspects of a culture to, basically, benefit themselves. Usually this element of a culture is worn in fashion or even as a joke, but that’s just a quick idea of what the basis of it is. Cultural appropriation can be a complex concept and numerous individuals fight over what is and what isn’t appropriation. A deeper understanding of cultural appropriation also refers to a power dynamic in which members of a privileged/superior culture take elements from a culture of people who have been oppressed by that said privileged group. Oppressed groups don’t have the dominance to decide if they’d prefer to practice their customs or try on the privileged culture’s traditional ideals just for laughs.

Negative Effects of Cultural Appropriation:

1. It’s Only Cool if You’re White

 Seeing as though white people are the pinnacle of beauty in our twisted society, cornrows, dreads, bindis etc. are seen as edgy and stylish, but if on a person of color who is actually of that ethnicity they’re seen as too ethnic and looked down upon for their traditions. Take Kylie Jenner for example, right after she took a hairstyle created by multiple cultures – all of which were NOT white – and wore it herself, dreads were seen as, well, in the media’s eyes all of a sudden, cool, acting as if she herself came up with the style. She was praised. On the other hand, singer and actress Zendaya  – a female of who is actually black – at one point wore her hair like this and received criticism saying she “looked like she smelled like weed.”

This just shows the automated bias towards white people.

2. It Reinforces Racist Stereotypes

 When you think of Native Americans what do you see? Feathers and loincloths? Savage men and women? These are some things I’ve seen time and time again in the media’s views of Native Americans. People seem to forget they even exist. The costumes that you see on the shelves at Party City or any other Halloween store are those of a whole nation’s culture. The beads you see ridden on the cloth are supposed to be blessed one by one, they all have a meaning, but the costume you’re going to wear is a mockery of it altogether. It’s certainly not harmless nor respectful to misrepresent people’s cultures.

3. It Prioritizes the Feelings of Privileged People Over Justice for Marginalized/Oppressed People

 Oh, how hard it is to be white! Of all the races I had to be born as I was born white! Leaving the sarcasm behind, it is safe to say many white people honestly believe that the “white man’s burden” is so unfair and that we should be allowed to wear other cultures as a costume. Stop trying to justify genocide and slavery. I still don’t quite understand why we have such a deep craving/desire to dress up as another race. It’s mocking a whole population of people!

 Cultural appreciation is something very different. Cultural appreciation is most commonly found in people trying to honor another culture. You never wear a marginalized race as a costume and it’s literally – as it is called – appreciating another culture. It is trying to better understand the history and background of said culture. If someone from this culture invites you to practice a certain tradition of theirs – let’s say for instance, you go to a traditional Nigerian wedding for your best friend – you’re allowed to go to this wedding and learn more about the culture while practicing the tradition. Compared to appropriation, appreciation is a lot less complicated.

 So, now you know why you shouldn’t go out in that geisha costume you picked out for Halloween! Remember, you wear the costume for one night, the people who are apart of these cultures have to deal with the stereotypes and racism for a whole lifetime.

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