What not to wear: cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes


Story by Carolyn Slattery, Saint Reporter

Photo courtesy of Pexels.com

 Halloween is a time for candy, scary movies and costumes. Unfortunately, some of those costumes can cross the line between creative and culturally insensitive. The holiday, which originated with people dressing in costume to ward off evil spirits, has morphed into a day that celebrates all kinds of creative self-expression. It means not only do people dress up as witches and monsters, but also as one another. This is where things get complicated, and why the term “cultural appropriation” is continually brought up in a heated debate each October. Cultural appropriation is a phrase coined as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not one’s own, especially without showing comprehension or respect for their culture.” Year after year, it seems as if the debate grows into astronomical proportions; one side claiming offense and the other expounding on the idea of “political correctness.”

It is time to change the conversation around cultural appropriation. The term has been reduced to mere internet outrage and dismissed as a tool devised by the “fun police” to keep people from enjoying Halloween. But in reality, cultural appropriation is a stain on American history. It is the manifestation of one of the earliest, most enduring racist ideals: the belief that people who belong to marginalized cultures are somehow less than human. Once you have dehumanized someone, you can co-opt their culture with ease; their language, dress, and customs are not worthy of the respect you reserve for your own. On top of centuries of oppression, marginalized groups must now contend with people mocking their identity, right in front of their faces. And when they speak up, critics rush to attack and silence them.

I could definitely be viewed as being on the side of political correctness; yet, would that be so awful? Is it hard to find ways to avoid possibly offend someone’s customs and culture? Political correctness is always thought of going to the extremes of avoiding insulting others, but I do not see extremity in choosing to be a famous actor over wearing a kimono or a hijab for Halloween. While this is an argument that is definitely politicized, it does not have to be viewed as such. Everyone can learn to be polite and respectful without being political; a trait that, you would think, most would already have.

These costumes are not funny and harmless; cultural appropriation is not senseless outrage. It is a painful, dehumanizing attack on another’s culture, another’s history, another’s existence. And it should have no place in our society — at Halloween and beyond.

Categories: Opinion, Uncategorized

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