Culture v. Costume: A Guide

As we get closer and closer to Halloween, people of color are filled with a sense of dread. To most people, Halloween is a time to dress as a slutty nurse or a fictional character that they love. But to some, for whatever a reason, it’s the perfect time to get a little racist. Blackface, sombreros, and all kinds of grossly inappropriate costumes come to light. It SHOULD go without saying, that someone else’s culture should never be used as a costume as it makes light of the meaning and history behind it. It’s not only rude but completely insensitive because you’re using someone else’s cultural identity as the butt of a joke. This is where cultural appropriation comes in to play. Everyday Feminism describes cultural appropriation as a “power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.” These dominant groups receive praise or maybe a few laughs while the oppressed receive ridicule and criticism for practicing their own culture. Cultural appropriation has been a problem in the US for a long time now. In 2015, I even wrote a college essay on the subject due to the fact my the Dean of Students at my university thought it was acceptable to throw a Mexican-themed Halloween party.

The purpose of this article, however, is to help you make it through Halloween WITHOUT offending anybody this year (or any year for that matter). Let’s get started!

Pennywise – Good

This costume, creepy as it may be, is a good choice considering all the hype around the new movie. It’s definitely creepy as hell, but not the least bit offensive.

Mexican – BAD!

If you even thought about doing this, just go ahead and smack yourself right in the forehead. Go on. You know you deserve it. Do not wear a sombrero. Do not add a donkey to your already offensive ensemble. Do not pretend to jump the border. Just don’t, ok. Mexican stereotypes are already bad enough by themselves, they don’t need to be perpetuated further because you want a few laughs at a halloween party.

Moana – Good*Disney Moana's Adventure Outfit

I’ll be honest and say I hesitated to put this in the “good” category cause there’s been a a lot of controversy surrounding whether this is cultural appropriation or not. After listening to a lot of Pacific Islanders say they don’t find little kids dressing as their Disney hero remotely offensive, I’m comfortable giving this a thumbs up. There’s no blackface and no mockery of the culture. It’s adorable and honestly should be encouraged. I think it’s really sweet that kids can see a minority hero/heroine and look up to them the same way they would look up to any figure. That should be the goal. I don’t think we should discourage kids from this. As a black female I would not personally take offense to a child of another race dressing as Princess Tiana, and I think most black people would feel the same way.

*Although I am a minority, I obviously cannot speak for ALL people of color. If a Moana costume or any other minority hero costume is taken as offensive by an individual of that specific race, I encourage you to hear them out. They may have a completely different point of view than you or me.

Native American – BAD!

Image result for native american costume

This is the difference between appropriation and appreciation. A Moana costume is appreciating the heroine of a Polynesian myth portrayed by Disney. This…this is just wrong. White people came to America and stole the land right from Native Americans through brute force, assimilation, and genocide. To add insult to injury their children’s children and their children’s children parade around in sexed-up versions of the culture they forced them to assimilate from. So the next time  you think Native Americans need to “lighten up” about sharing their culture, remember that they owe you absolutely nothing. They’ve had enough taken from them already.

Firefighter – Good

Firefighters, Police Officers, Soldiers, whatever are perfectly fine costumes. It’s the dream job you’ve lowkey always wanted but were too scared to actually pursue. It’s ok. Halloween is all about being a different you for just one night. A warning though: make sure your costume isn’t too authentic because you could then be venturing into stolen valor or impersonating a police officer which are both illegal and could get you jail time.

Gangster/Rapper – BAD!

This may seem like a reach, but if you really think about it, it’s not. If a black man walks down the street dressed in baggy clothes, sagging pants, and a hat facing the wrong direction, he’s automatically deemed a thug. It’s just a name. Stick and stones, right? Wrong. Trayvon Martin was literally killed at the hands of a white man for dressing like this and his murderer faced 0 jail time. Now black mothers have to tell their sons to pull their pants up (more than they already did) and wear their “nice coat” when they go out instead of a hoodie for fear they won’t return home. Black people lose their lives for dressing like this even though it’s just a style that’s a part of our culture. White people put it on and think it’s funny to be “gangsta” or “hood” because they know they won’t face the same repercussions black people face everyday just for existing. That, my dear, is white privilege.

Sexy Nurse – Good

Whether it’s a sexy nurse, sexy cop, or sexy maid, if you’re comfortable in it, then work it girlfriend. There is nothing wrong with dressing sexy for Halloween and anyone who tells you different can kiss your sexy ass! 💋

Sexy Geisha – BAD!

I, like most American-born citizens do not know very much about Japanese culture. I have, however, learned very recently a lot about Geishas. From said new found knowledge, it is very clear to me that dressing as a “sexy geisha” for halloween is HIGHLY inappropriate. According to Carla Herreria of Huffington Post, a geisha is an ancient Japanese profession traditionally held by Japanese women (and sometimes men) who have been professionally trained in performance arts, traditional tea ceremonies and the art of entertaining guests. Geishas adorn themselves in long, extravagant robes and paint their faces white with a bold red lip. This look is meant to be modest and mysterious. “The whole intrigue of a geisha is that she’s conservative,” explains a woman from the video. If you don’t fully understand what you’re wearing, especially when it’s someone’s culture, it’s best just not to wear it.

Halloween is all about fun and no one is discouraging you from having a good time. But, if you can’t have a good time without blatantly disrespecting someone else’s culture, perhaps you should just stay home. Everyone should be able to dress up and enjoy themselves without feeling like they’re being made a mockery of. If that’s something that offends you or makes you get defensive, I encourage you to take a moment and ask yourself how those who’s culture you’re appropriating feel.

Now go and have a spooky good time!