What Not To Wear On Halloween

Nicole Joy Balawon, Student Life Editor

Halloween is a holiday celebrated widely in America – year after year, the total amount spent on candy for this specific holiday steadily rises as more and more and more Americans partake in this wonderful and festive day! However, while celebrating and picking out what costume to wear, keep in mind that your costume should not be someone’s culture.

Obviously, you’re not trying to do it on purpose – it’s not your fault that you’ve come up with this outrageously funny and goofy costume that’s just so clever you’re sure to win this costume contest, or one up a friend, or whatever it is. But that’s the point. Many people are not aware that what they’re doing – cultural appropriation – is extremely damaging and offensive to minorities of the culture. 

 Yes, the culture surrounding Halloween encourages this type of behavior not seen so on any normal day. Anna Akbari, PhD, sociologist and founder of Sociology of Style says that “At Halloween, you participate in the carnivalesque. Everyday life gets turned upside down and inside out, hierarchies dissolve, the sacred becomes profane. Hence why so many women dress in an overtly sexual manner, because they can reclaim it in a way that becomes acceptable on Halloween.” 

“Halloween as a holiday has a history of being focused on inversion of power,” says Professor Susan Scafidi of Fordham University and author of Who Owns Culture: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law. “It’s about turning the daily world on its head.” Everyone can dress up as celebrities or politicians, or other powerful figures, and it can be viewed as funny or even clever. But in dressing up as one of the cultures that you are currently oppressing, or have subjugated in the past, you’re not inverting anything, you’re just kicking them when they are down — or, as Scafidi says, “reinforcing current power structures in an offensive way.” (x)

Put it this way – treat others the way you want to be treated and with the dignity they deserve. If you’re planning to wear something that you know others can’t wear without being persecuted or harassed for, then it’s simple. Do not wear it.

Minorities have to suffer with so much every day of their lives, from discrimination, hostility, violence, and exploitation – and then to go out on Halloween and see people making fun of them using negative and wrong stereotypes? Yeah, you may not mean offense to it, but how would feel in that position? Seeing someone degrade your culture to a meaningless shell of a stereotype? “You can be whoever you want for a day, but with what ramifications?” says Dr. Akbari. “Who suffers at the hand of your public display of dress-up?”

Imagine Mexicans who are happily celebrating Dia de Muertos also known as Day of the Dead – a holiday that celebrates their lost loved ones – and yet seeing others celebrating Halloween with their faces painted in a way that resembles calaveras? What about Muslims who are unable to get on a plane without being pulled out of the security line and then seeing someone dressed up as a ‘terrorist’ for fun? What makes it even worse is that minorities can’t say a thing without being dismissed as overly sensitive.

“The pushback is ‘People can’t take a joke’ or ‘You’re looking too hard for [offense],’” says Akil Houston, associate professor of cultural and media studies at Ohio University. Students there did a great campaign a couple years back called “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume.”

Current issues involve at least four white women and one white male in North Dakota have dressed themselves as Native Americans, wearing headdresses, indigenous jewelry, and dressing themselves in outrageously stereotypical “Indian” garb. What makes it worse? These people hold signs mocking the #NoDAPL – a real life threatening issue to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian tribe – and dubbing themselves ‘waterpertecters’ and mocking the protesters rallied in North Dakota standing against the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. While Native Americans endure violence from the police while protesting construction on the Dakota Access oil pipeline, at least four people decided it was a good idea to mock them with Halloween costumes – and post about it. 

Pictures of the costume were originally tweeted out by Dr. Adrienne Keene, a writer and professor specializing in Native American education and representation, who called the idea something she “truly never thought someone would do it. I should have known. But I’m horrified.” 

Not to mention the enormous celeb mess ups bound to happen after tonight – the first few on the list being Hillary Duff, dressed as a ‘sexy’ pilgrim with her boyfriend accompanying her as a Native American, and Ashley Tisdale decked out in ‘Day of the Dead’ wear. The list goes on and on and on – such as Julianne Hough in black face dressed as Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black, Chris Brown as a terrorist, Heidi Klum as Hindu goddess Kali, and even Prince Harry in Nazi soldier garb back in his early twenties. This list brings about the importance of educating yourself on cultural appropriation and the meaning behind what you decide to dress as.

It’s hard to draw a line on a holiday designed to push the limit on what’s socially accepted but here are a few basic guidelines on what not to wear on Halloween.

Don’t wear blackface.

No ‘ands’, ‘ifs’, or ‘buts’ – just don’t. No idea “clever” or “awesome” enough will eclipse the amount of racism your costume would portray. And to even extend that, don’t wear someone’s skin color as a costume. Minorities’ lives are hard enough and simply putting it on as a costume to make fun of or to be clever isn’t morally right.

Don’t wear a Native American headdress. Or any Native American costume.

Native Americans are not a costume. They’re real people and their culture is not something to put on and make fun of simply because you’re part of the group that conquered them – that actually makes it even worse. And, even more times over, Native Americans still suffer from consequences from colonization such as terms like “Indian-giver” (a term coined to disguise the unwillingness of colonists to pay a debt owed) and forced livelihood on reservations that are now under threat. Dressing in costumes doesn’t help that but still, some people, with an educated mind and healthy conscience, willingly appropriate their culture just for the fun of it.

“There is the PocaHottie, the sexy native woman costume, the chief, or the savage. These costumes are playing off stereotypes of people, and we know stereotypes have negative impacts on us on a daily basis.” Adrienne Keene, EdD, writes elegantly on this topic on her blog, Native Appropriations.

These stereotypes perpetuate the power held over minorities by simply dangling the fact that ‘yes, privileged people can dress like this and it will be socially accepted but when I wear it, I’m offending someone else’ – which doesn’t exactly add up right.

Don’t sexualize minorities.

“The sexualization of women from foreign cultures is part of a different kind of oppression,” professor Scafidi says. “Particularly the treatment of women who are part of the ‘other’ as sexually available to men of the majority culture. Which is why when people sometimes say, ‘I don’t care if someone dresses up like my culture,’ that’s usually coming from a straight male.” (x)

Simply put, while you’re here in America partying it up as a sexy gypsy, harassment of the Roma in Europe is well documented and ongoing the very moment. While you can take the costume off, they can’t take it off and escape the harassment.

Just keep these few simple things in mind and you’re all set for Halloween. The issue about cultural appropriation isn’t meant to lessen your creativity – think smarter about costumes instead of funnier. Creativity is only limited by what you believe it is – and if you’re thinking about dressing as something from a culture or ethnicity, reevaluate.

Happy Halloween!

Latest posts by Nicole B (see all)