Photo Credits: KATHERINE FRANKS / AGGIE
Halloween outfits rooted in cultural respect, not appropriation
Oct. 31 marks an annual celebration, one where countries around the world celebrate Halloween by dressing in elaborate costumes and expressing their creativity. The celebration originates from an ancient Celtic festival where participants wear costumes to ward off ghosts and evil spirits.
Robert Dellinger, a third-year marine science and international relations major, explained why Halloween is one of his favorite celebrations of the year and discussed how he picks out his costumes.
“I love that there is so much open space to do whatever you want for Halloween,” Dellinger said. “I normally pick my costumes off of funny things, or memes, that have happened throughout the year.”
In recent years, there have been several controversies over certain costumes considered to be culturally insensitive — especially costumes with blackface as well as costumes appropriating Native American dress and cultural customs. USA Today has published a comprehensive list detailing Halloween costumes perceived as inappropriate.
According to Dellinger, people should be culturally aware when choosing their costumes.
“If you think it’s cultural appropriation it probably is, so don’t do it,” Dellinger said. “We all hear stories about the blackface on college campuses and it’s upsetting because people who live with those skin tones have to deal with that every day of the year, specifically regarding racism and police brutality. So when people dress up in blackface, they make a joke out of those issues.”
Chaz Cruz, the director of the Cross Cultural Center (CCC), said offensive Halloween costumes may start as a small incident, but once they gain recognition and attention, their negative message spreads.
“Many costumes are connected to stereotypical views of a community, thus, become a part of a greater collective joke, whereas the community in which is being stereotyped/appropriated suffer grave consequences,” Cruz said. “For example, non-Black people who decide to dress up as a black person by painting their skin brown and wearing ‘afro’ wigs or other hair pieces that are connected to blackness. Blackface carries a long history of dehumanization of black people. When a non-black person dresses up in blackface, the person doesn’t honor the real discriminatory experiences of black people, for example, while someone may wear an Afro wig, it is still legal in most states to discriminate against black people for wearing their natural hair.”
Cruz said the CCC advises those celebrating Halloween to practice cultural awareness and avoid cultural appropriation.
“Halloween can be a magical dress up celebration,” Cruz said. “It’s one of the few times people can play with fantasy and characters in a dominant setting. One way to stay away from appropriating is making sure not to dress up as something that is tied to someone’s culture, especially marginalized cultures. If you decide to dress up as a real person who is outside of your culture/community, research ways to do it without being offensive; one trick in advance do NOT paint your skin darker to be a Brown person.”
ASUCD Vice President Shreya Deshpande discussed different elements surrounding both cultural awareness and cultural appropriation.
“Cultural awareness is first and foremost — recognizing that there are a plethora of communities, traditions, identities and forms of expression that people come from and engage in based on their diverse backgrounds,” Deshpande said. “It is being cognizant of the significance that a certain cultural tradition may carry, and respecting that even if you are unaware of exactly what it is. Cultural appropriation refers to co-opting one’s traditional or culturally significant practice for a purpose that is separate from the purpose it is utilized amongst a certain community.”
Deshpande listed examples and consequences of cultural appropriation.
“The classic example is wearing a bindi or Indigenous headdresses as adornments to a ‘costume’ simply because it is aesthetically pleasing,” Deshpande said. “These articles of clothing carry certain cultural significance, either religious or spiritual beliefs, or are to be worn under certain circumstances. Taking it out of context and co-opting it for a costume is a form of ignorance for not only the cultures of these people, but of the histories within which these items and practices hold their significance.”
Deshpande has seen non-African American individuals with cornrows in their hair and non-Indian/Southest Asian individuals wear bindis — “it’s always a little shocking.”
“There is no one thing that can make a costume offensive,” Deshpande said. “It is important for folks to educate themselves, understand the diversity of cultures around them, and if they have doubts, better to stay on the safe side and not wear the costume at all.”
Deshpande cited the DSU ‘Is your Halloween costume racist?’ as a good foundation to determine whether or not a costume is inappropriate. They further detailed examples of popular inappropriate costumes they have noticed.
“If it looks wrong, don’t buy it,” Deshpande said. “Don’t wear a headdress and moccasins to dress up like an ‘Indian.’ Don’t be ‘Pocahontas,’ don’t be an ‘Arabian Princess,’ don’t be a ‘gaucho.’ If you are wondering if you are appropriating, err on the side of caution, and take the time to educate yourself. It is easy to be ignorant, but it is not an excuse.”
Advice was offered to those participating in Halloween festivities this week.
“Take the time this year to educate yourself,” Deshpande said. “In a politically [and] racially charged climate, it is important for us to respect one another. This means respecting cultural practices, taking the time to have a conversation with someone about their culture. There are tons of costume ideas out there that are not disrespectful, original and creative.”
Written by: Sneha Ramachandran — firstname.lastname@example.org