by Elexa Printup
October 31st is vastly approaching and between COVID-19, school, jobs, and family life, I’m sure we’re all looking forward to a bit of normalcy this Halloween. Although it’s been a rough and isolated last seven months, we can look forward to the fact that Halloween can be celebrated safely and effectively. Whether you’ll be watching a good horror film, handing out candy, or even go trick-or-treating; I hope this year we can all be mindful of cultural appropriation and how we can avoid that.
Halloween is a tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. It was celebrated on the last day of October as it marked the harvest and the beginning of the dark and cold winter. A time of year that was often associated with human death in those times. The costumes worn were typically animal heads and skins, yet over time switched to more spooky things such as witches, ghosts, goblins, and skeletons. Over time however, people have begun to look for other ideas for costumes. These days we will see things like Chinese geisha girls, Mexican ‘Senorita’s,’ people using blackface, Indian Princess’s/Chiefs, and other culturally inappropriate characters. While most Caucasian people didn’t see an issue with this dressing up as they were more-so honoring these cultures, the Chinese, Mexican, black and Indigenous people were not happy seeing their culture displayed as costumes. Many people see dressing up like this as harmless fun and just being in the spirit of Halloween, butthere is a deeper meaning when doing this. Cultures are not made for costumes. It wasn’t until recently that people from these other cultures began to speak out on these costumes and deemed them “culturally inappropriate”.
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of certain elements from another culture without the consent of people who it belongs to. Although it has been a touchy subject this time of the year, itis important that we recognize what the term actually means and how we can instead, cultural appreciate.
We can appreciate these cultures by showing interest in them on any other day of the year. Cultural appreciation is when you seek to understand and learn about this culture in an effort to broaden your perspective and to connect with others cross-culturally. This does not mean dressing up in a Headdress on Halloween to look cool to your friends. Why is it normalized to dress as an Indigenous person on Halloween? It is a culture and not just some costume to look cute in. This is not a way to honor one’s culture.
An interesting question I’ve come across was “Is it okay to dress as Disney characters? Like Jasmine or Pocahontas?” At first, I would say yes. Children are children and they don’t know any better. All they recognize is their favorite character on their favorite Disney movie. As I become older and gain more knowledge though, I realize that these continuous cycles will never be broken if we don’t hold ourselves accountable. When asked if dressing as these Disney characters is okay, Kylee Vyse, mother, states “Discussing with and educating your children on other cultures is a great way to see that Disney characters are sometimes based on real stories, people, and culture.” As adults, it is our job to set good examples for children and not make it an option to them. When we allow children to dress up as other cultures, we are allowing them to grow up thinking that this behavior is acceptable. The sooner we instill that these types of costumes are not okay right from the beginning, the sooner we will be able to address power, racism, and dispossession. As we celebrate spooky season this year, let’s remember that there are so many costume ideas to choose from that doesn’t involve appropriating one’s culture. Costumes should not become opportunities to turn a person’s identity into a stereotyped image. It’s clear that most people are unaware of the history behind these offensive costumes and need help in understanding why it can be hurtful. There are cartoon characters, movie characters, animals, etc. If you truly want to honor different cultures, do just that. Honor them by taking time to engage, learn, and ask