On Halloween night, you may see people wearing sombreros decorated with brightly colored ribbons, headdresses adorned with feathers and cheap kimonos painted with intricate designs. When people wear Halloween costumes of stereotypes of other cultures, it is called cultural appropriation, and to affected minority groups, it matters.
Cultural appropriation misrepresents cultures and undermines minority groups of various ethnicities, such as people of Native American, Latino, Chinese or various other descents. It is especially prevalent on Halloween, when people may dress up as an individual from another culture.
“In terms of Halloween costumes, the concept overall looks not just at stereotyping but also exploitation, to use elements of someone else’s culture for profit or entertainment or pleasure, at the same time that those individuals in those groups are not treated with respect, with equality and with access to opportunity,” said Stephanie McClure, a sociology professor.
Large corporations like Walmart and CVS sell culturally exploitive Halloween costumes. Typing in “Indian costume” or “Mexican costume” into Walmart’s search bar generates dozens of costumes choices.
“Halloween is a holiday when people are allowed, and even encouraged, to be transgressive,” said Bradley Koch, associate professor of sociology. “Otherwise ‘good girls’ are allowed to dress sexy; guys are allowed to display their alter egos. It can be a lot of fun for many. Unfortunately, some take it as an excuse to do racism. Dressing up in blackface, for example, is never OK.”
Koch said students should encourage and educate each other to wear respectful Halloween costumes. Student organizations, fraternities and sororities can reject those who misrepresent cultures such as Mexicans, Arabs and Asians.
Stacey Hurt-Milner, director of the GC Cultural Center, recommends students watch “My Culture is not a Costume” and “Cultural Appropriation Explored” on YouTube to gain a more in-depth understanding of cultural appropriation. The videos get to the heart of why people should not utilize cultural identities as costumes.
“It is not just a costume, as you are stripping away the pains that minorities go through and turning it into a joke,” said senior Serena Odeh, a special education major working for the Office of Inclusive Excellence as a diversity peer educator.
Odeh said that cultural appropriation desensitizes society to misrepresentations and being the joke of the party. She said students can raise awareness by doing personal research. If people choose to represent a culture on Halloween, they should do so accurately and respectfully.
Wearing elements from other cultures is not always considered appropriation, but drawing that line can be difficult.
“Cultural appropriation comes from a colonization mindset and the taking of a culture by someone without background knowledge,” said Melissa Gerrior, program coordinator at GC’s Women’s Center. “Cultural exchange pertains to someone of a specific culture coming to others to help them understand.”
Hurt-Milner said CAs, fraternities and sororities are creating programs to inform students about cultural appropriation, such as social awareness presentations at chapter. They hope to cut down the use of offensive Halloween costumes this fall.