Culture is not a costume
Happy October, everyone! It’s that time of year again, the leaves are changing, temperatures are dropping and fall festivities are in full swing. I have always loved the fall, for many reasons: cozy sweaters, hot apple cider and bonfires, but most importantly my favorite holiday: Halloween.
Selecting a Halloween costume has always been one of my season highlights, it is a fun and exciting adventure but it can also be a difficult task. I want to have the best and trendiest, yet unique costume out there which can be stressful to come up with. So let me ask, have you picked out a Halloween costume yet?
Maybe you’ve already visited a Halloween store and have chosen to be a superhero, a princess, or an awesome feminist icon, or maybe you’ve searched Pinterest and have opt to DIY it this year. Whatever you decide to dress up as, please remember this one very important thing:
Culture is not a costume.
If you have ever been to a Halloween or other costume party, you are most likely familiar with cultural appropriation, even if you didn’t know it at the time. In its simplest form, cultural appropriation is when you take something from a culture that you do not belong to and use it outside of that cultural context without understanding its cultural significance.
It is extremely important to critically think about if your costume is perpetuating negative stereotypes of a culture. For example, wearing a Native American headdress for Halloween might seem like a really fun idea, but you are ignoring the fact that Native Americans consider the headdress to be a sign of achievement that is cherished in many Native communities. This is cultural appropriation.
Also, if you are choosing to dress up as a minority celebrity or fictional character, it is never okay to darken your skin. This action is referred to as blackface. Blackface has a very complex history; boiled down, blackface is offensive because it was created by white people as a means of defining and dehumanizing black people. The same goes for taping your eyes back to appear Asian. The character or celebrity you are portraying is so much more than their skin color. If you cannot portray your character or celebrity by wearing attire that is recognizable, you should reconsider your choice of costume.
Students at Ohio University created a series of posters titled “We’re a culture, not a costume” as an effort to educate about culturally offensive costumes. The posters give us a glimpse of commonly recreated costumes and the cultures they misrepresent. Take a look at the poster campaign below.
At the end of the day, Halloween is all about fun, and there are plenty of costumes that you can wear that are not offensive to anyone’s culture. So, this year when you are Halloween shopping, keep in mind that culture is not a costume and if you are considering an outfit that implies being “tribal, ethnic, traditional or authentic” to another culture, just put it back.
WE’RE A CULTURE, NOT A COSTUME POSTER SERIES