It’s that spooky time of the year again. The time of binge-watching 90’s horror flicks and taking your DIY costume skills to entirely new levels is finally among us, and we’re right by your side if you’ve been counting down the days until this spectacularly grim holiday season. However, between the pumpkin-scented festivities, we can’t forget about the scariest part of modern Halloween celebrations: the horrors of cultural appropriation.
Unfortunately, no matter how many times people of color snatch tacky afro wigs off blonde heads or bindis off pale faces, cultural appropriation is the lesson never learned. Like clockwork, as soon as October rolls around, thoughts of finding new ways to exploit others’ cultures begin to roll in like an inevitable fog. So, because apparently, it’s still necessary to spell it out for you, consider this your annual reminder to stop using people of color’s culture as a costume. Here are a few tips to avoid being the culture vulture at your next costume party, emphasized nice and clear for the people in the back.
If it involves darkening your skin tone, then it is no longer “just a costume” -- it is blackface.
It’s disheartening that I even have to mention the perils of blackface as if Halloween magically warps us back into the early 20th century. For those who need the extra confirmation, no you will not be commended for totally committing to the character, and yes your blackface is offensive. Blackface is a racist practice created as a way for white people to exploit Black culture for the entertainment of more white people. The whole system was simply a way to mock highly offensive stereotypes by portraying Black culture through a deeply distorted lens. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to attempt to bring back this activity and the discriminatory past that goes hand-and-hand with it. So, this Halloween just keep it simple, if you find yourself going out of your way to buy new foundation four shades darker than your actual skin color, then it’s time for you to consider a different costume.
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Ditch anything that plays into racial or cultural stereotypes.
Yes, this means no sticking on a sombrero and a poncho and calling yourself a Mexican for the night. Odds are, whatever you may be planning to wear to represent a group of people is likely based off of an inaccurate stereotype. That means by covering yourself in gold chains and summoning every ounce of slang you can look up in Urban Dictionary, you’re just reinforcing a misconstrued image that the culture is probably beyond tired of hearing. This also includes staying away from offensive accents and speaking patterns; I promise they’re not as funny as you may think they are.
Avoid cultural insensitivity by not dressing up as part of another culture’s history.
If a culture/religion holds a particular part of their history to a sensitive standard, then dressing up as a part of this historical narrative is probably not a good idea. History is not a happy story for people of color, and a lot of the time, parts of their history is a touchy subject, to say the least. Most effects of tragic historical experiences are still seen today when examining the treatment of people of color, in the United States especially. So don’t rub salt on an old but still-bleeding wound by deciding to dress up as a slave or by sticking feathers on your forehead and call yourself Pocahontas.
Don’t fetishize other cultures.
When you drag aspects from someone’s culture into the world of skimpy costumes, what likely results is the hypersexualization of a specific group of people. This hypersexualization can turn real toxic, real fast, as it’s used to fuel the fetishization of those who belong to this culture. While your new geisha costume may seem harmless enough, the effects of wearing a skimpy piece of fabric for one night can unintentionally denote a culture’s intricate traditions into one dehumanizing portrait.
Even if you do manage to avoid metaphorically slapping others’ cultures in the face with your choice of costume, that doesn’t mean you’re quite in the clear yet. Our warning of what not to wear this Halloween stretches into the realms of offending the religion, gender or sexual orientation of your peers. It’s also probably not the best idea to make light of national tragedies or traumatic events. Basically just have some respect this spooky season, I promise it’s not that hard to simply have fun with your costume without being a horrible person. Celebrate Halloween as it’s meant to be celebrated, with good intentions and basic human decency.
Below, some halloween ideas that won't offend anyone, but will make you look really, really, good:
Banner Image via Dear White People (Netflix)