This Saturday is one of the most fun holidays of the year- Halloween. It’s fun to plan your costume and to go out candy-hunting (or, as most call it, trick-or-treating) with your friends. But there is a line that some costumes cross, a line where having fun crosses over into offensive cultural appropriation.
What exactly is cultural appropriation? It’s when a dominant group (for example, white people) adopt an aspect of a minority group’s culture (say, Native American headdresses) and use it as a costume or as a fun fashion accessory. This is a problem for so many reasons. Amandla Stenberg put it perfectly when she called out Kylie Jenner for wearing dreadlocks: “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high-fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves.” Furthermore, when a privileged person takes an aspect of a minority group’s culture, they don’t have to deal with the prejudice and racism that minority groups have to face on a daily basis.
When we talk about cultural appropriation, we have to ensure that we are creating space for people of minority groups to have a voice. While it is great for white people to recognize that there is a problem, we can’t be the dominant voices in this conversation. We need to be allies to minorities, and work to create an understanding of what cultural appropriation is and how to avoid it.
Part of creating space means not getting offended when cultural appropriation is discussed. Too often conversations becomes focused on white people, to put it bluntly, whining about how their “freedom of expression is being crippled” or that “[insert minority group] is being too sensitive, it’s just a costume.” When I hear white people complain like this, it makes me feel sick. Privileged groups have the horrible tendency to make conversations about themselves, when we really need to be focusing on the experiences of minority groups. If we make it all about white people and how they feel slighted, we miss the point of the conversation entirely.
Halloween is meant to be a fun holiday, and all it takes to keep it that way is a little sensitivity. It is ok to dress up as a specific historical figure that you admire, like Barack Obama or Cleopatra. What is not ok is taking parts of a minority group’s culture (say, an indian spirit dress or dreadlocks) and wearing it as a funny costume, without recognizing the historical experiences of that group, and realizing the social implications someone of that minority group has to deal with for wearing what you have taken as a costume. Cultural appropriation is a massive issue, and I don’t understand all the nuances and complexities of it. But it is important that everyone tries to be kind and respectful every day of the year, and especially with your costumes on Halloween.