Avoiding Cultural Appropriation This Halloween

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As Halloween approaches, kids and adults start flocking to costume shops looking for their perfect alter ego. Will they be scary, sexy, cute? While moms deplore many of the teen girl offerings as too racy, and schools forbid weapons, blood, and gore, there is one type of costume that should be offensive to all: the kind that “borrows” another culture.

I’m talking about Native American headdresses, geisha costumes, Mexican sombreros and the like. While the appeal of these ensembles may be that they are exotic, they all stereotype certain cultures and relegate the people from those cultures to ancient history.

For example, how many Native Americans do you see walking around wearing war paint and feathers? Outside of solemn religious and cultural ceremonies, such garb is considered offensive. And on your trip to Mexico last spring, did you encounter lots of smiling Mexicans wearing ponchos and sombreros?

These stereotypes are offensive to people of other nationalities and cultures. Let’s take geishas for an example. I doubt most Japanese people enjoy seeing these depictions of women who are for the most part high paid prostitutes. (I realize the geisha in Japanese culture was much more, but the fact remains that rich and powerful men paid them for sex.) Is this really the kind of outfit you want your daughter to go out in on Halloween?

Unless a costume references a specific character, say, Jasmine from the movie Aladdin, dressing up like someone from a different culture is at best patronizing and at worst dehumanizing. In our country in particular, Native Americans are sick of people prancing around in buckskin and feathers with their faces painted. For them, the sight isn’t even restricted to Halloween. They are forced to see it at sporting events across the country.

I realize that most people mean no harm when they dress up for Halloween. I myself have evolved on this issue since the days when my daughter was little and I thought she would look cute dressed as an “Indian princess.” But looking at cultural appropriation from the point of view of that culture, we can see how dressing as a stereotype can offend.

This Halloween, there are plenty of fun and freaky costumes from the realm of fantasy and horror to wear. So have a little sensitivity and steer clear of cultural appropriation this Halloween. I promise the zombie and vampire factions won’t be offended.

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