Put down that black face paint. Toss out that faux-feather headdress. If your Halloween costume requires impersonating another culture, you’re doing it wrong.
If you’re a hardcore Halloween enthusiast, your anxiety about what costume to wear begins somewhere around the end of summer. However, no tactful costume idea—whether handmade or store-bought—should include appropriating, or insensitively borrowing, tropes and symbols from cultures different from your own.
For those of you wondering if your master plan of a costume is a culprit of cultural appropriation, here is are some costumes that make the list of wrongdoings:
- Blackface— painting your face black in order to portray a black/African American character or individual.
- Head Apparel—Turbans, hijabs, sombreros, Native American headdresses or any other cultural adornment worn on one’s head is a clear crossing of cultural lines. Many of these articles of headwear hold significant meaning to the cultures in which they’ve originated, and wearing them for the sake of a costume diminishes and mocks the value of those symbols.
- Perpetuating stereotypes—a costume perpetuating stigma can carry weight that is sure to ruin any Halloween festivities. This could include outfits denoting “teenage pregnancy” or “a redneck.” Though these costumes are rooted in Westernized, American culture, it is still insensitive to emphasize elements of these identities, because they further contribute to prejudice and judgment of groups that already experience disdain beyond this holiday.
Sometimes the worst offenders are the ones that not only claim symbols of another culture as their own for Halloween, but also the context of the costume sends even worse messages on a day that’s meant to be entertaining. Recently, a photo went viral of a male-identified individual wearing blackface and posing as Ray Rice—a professional football player who was suspended “indefinitely” after video footage was released of Rice abusing his then-fiancée (now wife), Janay Palmer. Also in the photo is a female-identified individual in blackface, posing as Palmer. The costume was taken a step further when the woman depicting Palmer also applied makeup to appear as though she had a black eye. Not only is this couple’s costume racist, it also fuels unhealthy rhetoric around rape culture and negates the importance of discussing domestic violence issues. Unfortunately, Rice Halloween costumes have made several debuts across the Internet—each making jest of this serious issue.
It’s fair to place some of the blame on manufactured costumes. The range of culturally and societally insensitive products for purchase during Halloween are numerous—“ghetto wigs,” and “sexy geisha” are just a few absurd taglines that have no place at the checkout counter, let alone at your next big costume party. But Wal-Marts and Johnny Brock’s Dungeons are only able to continue mass-producing prejudiced apparel if consumers continue to invest in the products.
Blood and gore can be achieved without bigotry. Princesses and fairies can be achieved without xenophobia. Ideally, it would be great to see a future Halloween where kids can eat candy and college students can bob for alcohol-infused apples without encountering a series of needless microaggressions, offensive costumes and culturally insensitive antics.
The important thing to understand is that dressing as another culture for Halloween is dehumanizing to individuals who identity with that community. In the same way that “blonde jokes” or phrases like “women are bad drivers” don’t bode well for the people impacted by the punchline, members of marginalized groups witnessing their culture on display for Halloween reminds them that their lives are regarded as something that can be laughed at or repurposed for the sake of humor. These individuals experience adversity and oppression every day of the year—not just one. So unless your costume comes complete with being catapulted into the experiences of the subordinate group you wish to dress as, it may be time to pull out an old white sheet and be a ghost this year.