Arts & Culture / Mosaic / October 28, 2015

Avoiding cultural appropriation on Halloween

As Halloween approaches, there will be students who have been planning their costumes months in advance and students who will be raiding the nearest Goodwill just days before. However, whether your outfit has been planned for months or barely yesterday, it’s important to note how to avoid culturally-appropriating costumes. Cultural appropriation perpetuates negative stereotypes about marginalized groups and can be hurtful to many on campus. Though some students don’t always mean to confuse themselves over cultural appropriation and appreciation, the following are tips to keep in mind.


Traditional Wear

Traditional wear like Native American headdresses or South Asian bindis, which have been a recent costume trend, may want to be avoided because they can be highly revered among traditional communities. One example is a South Asian dress called the Kurtha, which is worn on special occasions or to worship the gods.

“Although it isn’t usually worn, it’s still important,” said freshman Shresha Karmacharya. She believes that instead, students should read up on the dress beforehand.

While someone can argue that a costume is not culturally relevant anymore, junior and SASS Public Relations Officer Nashra Mahmood proposed the question, “How are you going to tell me about my own culture?” In checking the appropriateness of your costume, freshman and first-year representative for SASS Pei Koroye said, “If you have to ask yourself, ‘How am I going to pull this off without being offensive?’, don’t do it.”


Marginalized Groups

Even if a costume is not based on race or culture, it can still be offensive to other marginalized groups. One example is the Caitlyn Jenner costume, which has already hit the shelves of many Halloween stores.

“People say it’s not a problem because the costume is just making fun of the celebrity,” said senior Sithara Vincent. She believes that costumes portraying celebrities, specifically the persona of Jenner, have the potential to reflect the negative stereotypes associated with the transgender community, as Jenner is a transgender woman herself.

Freshman Cassie Womack stressed the availability of other costumes that can be used instead. “I think you can still have fun in celebrity costumes like Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” she said. Womack finds Ginsburg admirable, not mockable.



While the love for Beyonce runs deep, there are ways to dress up as Queen Bey without wearing blackface. When choosing a costume, Mahmood believes avoiding Blackface is most important to keep in mind. Even if you’re dressing up as a character and not a celebrity, it’s still wise to avoid black- or brown-face because those characters are portrayed by real people.

According to Monica Weller, sophomore and SASS historian, “Painting your face green is fine because no one’s face is actually green. Blackface is not acceptable.”


Future Conversations

Although it may be tempting to argue, engaging in a dialogue about cultural appropriation is typically more effective toward building understanding. Even if the individual confronting the cultural appropriator does not represent the marginalized group, Rosemary Momoh, junior and SASS Treasurer, still believes it’s an important conversation to have and questions are always encouraged.

“I may not be those people, but I’m still human. I see what’s happening and it’s important,” she said.

Connie Meade

Tags:  costumes cultural appropriation halloween

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