Halloween 2020: my culture is not your costume

Ella Williamson, Staff Writer

Halloween is one of the most lighthearted holidays of the year, with little purpose other than as an excuse to spend time with friends, celebrate pop culture, and eat lots and lots of candy. It’s a once-a-year chance to become someone (or something) else for a day before the clock strikes midnight and the pumpkin spice carriage ride ends. And unlike most other holidays, with their religious affiliations and connections to controversial historical events, Halloween is simple, fun, and unproblematic, right? Maybe when it comes to candy, but when it comes to the intermixing of costumes and cultures—not so much.

Halloween can be more tricks than treats for minority groups who are forced to watch the holiday be used as an excuse to shred their cultures to pieces every single year. Think about it—have you seen a “Mexican” costume, made up of a tacky poncho, cheap sombrero, and fake mustache? What about an “Arabian Princess”or a stereotypical Hawaiian costume that consists of nothing but a grass skirt and a coconut bra? Not to mention costumes that imitate indigenous peoples, often described using incredibly offensive and dated terms like “pow wow” or “Indian.”  Many of these costumes use insensitive racial tropes and dehumanize oppressed groups. However, most cases of cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes are not purposefully offensive; they are simply a result of cluelessness. 

When I was in seventh grade, I dressed up as a “sugar skull doll” in a Día de Los Muertos inspired costume, despite the fact that my heritage is Asian European. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I liked the colorfully painted skull makeup I’d seen on Pinterest, and the idea that I might be doing something deemed culturally insensitive never crossed my mind. No one had anything to say besides compliments, but then again, I trick-or-treated in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood. Looking back, I realize that my choice of costume was insensitive and not culturally appropriate, even though I had no ill intent behind it.

Over the past few years, the hashtag #mycultureisnotyourcostume has become increasingly popular, and it is now more relevant than ever. Even if there are no ill intentions behind culturally diverse Halloween costumes, it isn’t a good idea to imitate another culture in any form, especially without understanding its cultural significance. These costumes heavily stereotype minority groups and have a plethora of negative impacts on their communities. This Halloween, we should all help friends, family, and peers at Liberty avoid cultural appropriation by encouraging them to dress to respect, not to oppress.