Every year during the month of October, I find myself cringing at my Facebook feed, or more specifically, at the pictures of the costumes my friends have chosen to wear to whatever various Halloween-themed parties they’ve attended throughout the month. When it comes to adorning themselves in offensive attire, my peers never fail me. From traditional Native American headdresses to calavera-inspired makeup to straight-up blackface, it’s all been on my timeline at one point or another, and it all contributes to a phenomenon known as cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation can be defined as the usurping of elements of a culture by those that are not a part of that culture. It’s a concept similar to how one generally doesn’t wear the merchandise of a band they don’t listen to, but to a much more serious extent. The issue is especially prevalent around Halloween, due in large part to the production of costumes that involve aspects belonging to a myriad of ethnic groups. However, just because these costumes are manufactured does not mean that it’s ethical to wear them. Someone’s culture or race isn’t a costume for one to put on and take off at will, especially those that do not experience the ramifications of being a member of that culture. At the least, it’s frustrating to witness, and at the most, it’s terribly offensive.
However, the majority of those who partake in cultural appropriation likely do not do so with malicious intent. It’s often an act born of ignorance or misunderstanding. That doesn’t excuse those who participate in the act, but it does bring to light that we need to better educate ourselves about the issue. We live in an age where information is readily available to us, and that should be taken advantage of. There’s an abundance of articles already in existence that speak out about the issue, and are just one Google search away. So when it comes to actually selecting your own Halloween costume this season, be informed and wary of get-ups that could potentially cause discomfort to others. If the costume belongs to a culture that is not your own, odds are you shouldn’t wear it. If what you plan to wear aids in the perpetuation of stereotypes or misrepresents a culture, odds are you shouldn’t wear it. If you find yourself questioning whether your costume could be interpreted in a manner other than what you’re intending, odds are you shouldn’t wear it. After all, Halloween is a holiday for candy and delight, not hurt and offense.