What are you going to be for Halloween?
Maybe you will be a “Squid Game” character, a witch, an animal or a celebrity. Regardless of what you choose to dress up as, it is important to remember that culture is not a costume.
Dressing up as someone else’s culture is not only hurtful and offensive to those groups, but it also perpetuates negative stereotypes, assumptions and racist ideology. Culture appropriation needs to end.
What is cultural appropriation?
It is when individuals take elements of a culture that has been systematically oppressed and that is not their own and does it for “fun.”
Sometimes these individuals do not mean to be hurtful, but to the cultures and communities of people that look like the costume you have on, it is not fun.
“[The costumes] blatantly take certain aspects of our culture, race [and] religion and use it for their advantage and ignore the people living it,” Glory Ames, from White Earth Reservation and co-president of the American Indian Student Association at Minnesota State University Moorhead, said.
Ames has advocated on behalf of her culture and has held workshops at her school to raise awareness about cultural appropriation.
Similarly, a lot of other college campuses are coming up with initiatives to combat cultural appropriation on campus during Halloween.
The trend started around 2011 at Ohio University. A group called Students Teaching About Racism in Society created a poster campaign called “We’re a Cultural, Not a Costume.” The purpose of it was to bring awareness to the hurtful stereotypes in Halloween costumes. More information about its campaign can be found at https://www.ohio.edu/orgs/stars/Home.html.
In 2015, the University of Denver also decided to participate in the campaign. It has shared photo features which depict a variety of culturally appropriative Halloween costumes to bring awareness to the issue.
The University of Oregon and University of Colorado Boulder have also participated in the campaign. The campaign now includes workshops as well as training programs.
At IUP, organizations like the Center for Multicultural Student Leadership and Engagement have even held workshops about the dangers and effects of cultural appropriation.
“If you say you can’t wear this, you’re shutting down the opportunity for conversation,” Rajhon White, resident director at the University of Denver, said. “[Part of our campaign] is [that] we encourage students to do their research. We live in a time where you can Google anything. You shouldn’t be reliant on those marginalized to explain.”
Cultural appropriation is not just limited to college students though.
Many politicians have worn offensive costumes and, although some of these incidents have occurred in the past, it is still important to acknowledge what happened so we can begin to work towards change.
The best course of action that you can take is to educate yourself on how other cultures feel about certain Halloween costumes. Doing your own research will help you better understand why so many Halloween costumes are offensive and inappropriate.
“Ask yourself the question: does the culture you’re imitating have a history of oppression?” Moody-Ramirez, director of American studies at Baylor University, said. “Are you benefiting from borrowing from the culture? Are you able to remove something when you get tired of it and return to a privileged culture when others can’t?”