Cultural appropriation and Halloween costumes

Autumn is a time that facilitates the change in weather from a state of warmth and sunshine to that of the frigid temperatures that are characteristic of the Winter.

One of the hallmarks of this time period is its affiliation with Halloween and related festivities. During this time, one is encouraged to embrace their darkside.

A plethora of horror or thriller based movies are also promoted in an effort to appease the masses and set the tone for the season.

One of the central traditions of this holiday is the custom of trick or treating in which people are encouraged to dress in their favorite costumes which depict often critically acclaimed superheroes, celebrities, or virtually anything.

To the unsuspecting eye, the previously aforementioned Halloween traditions may seem harmless and innocuous in theory but in practice, it has raised some concerns.

Among the Halloween traditions, the use of costumes has began to create racial tensions as a result of cultural appropriation and derogatory practices.

But what is cultural appropriation? And what derogatory practices does this consist of? Within the past few years, the term cultural appropriation has been used in a wide range of contexts and it has been highly referenced.

When Kim Kardashian sported her infamous “boxer braids” she encountered a great deal of backlash as she tried to claim “boxer braids” as her newly created hair style.

Little did she know “boxer braids” are actually an Afrocentric hairstyle that has ties to the time of slavery. This connection is easily seen as their proper name is “cornrows” due to the fact that they resemble rows of corn due to the division of the braids.

Critics of Kim Kardashian’s use of the term and twist on the hairstyle suggested that she was appropriating the hairstyle.

By appropriating or cultural appropriation, one is referring to “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture”.

In this sense, the social media personality and entrepreneur was appropriating African-American or African culture.

With this being said, it is clear that cultural appropriation is associated with ethnicity and ignorance towards the importance of ethnic customs and culture. So what does this have to do with Halloween traditions?

Well, the answer lies within one’s choice of costume. In recent times there has been an influx of Native American inspired costumes that are often sexualized and fashioned in ways that take away from the culture.

The costumes are also used incorrectly and due to the context in which they’re worn, the Native American culture is exploited and showcased as something comical or sexual.

Some costume wearers have even gone to the extent of wearing makeup to look more like the ethnic individual with which they are dressing. This raises a series of concerns as this is an act of blackface.

Blackface can be defined as “the makeup used by a nonblack performer playing a black role”. Such a practice is offensive to black individuals and other ethnic groups as it makes a mockery of one’s skin tone whether the use is intentional or unintentional.

A few of our fellow students here at Wilkes University have commented on this issue. Matthew Shapiro, a freshmen digital design media arts major here at Wilkes University asserts that such racist costumes are “just really inappropriate”.

Things like that were really used to like be derogatory and things like that should probably just stay back then in reference to blackface and cultural appropriation. Along with Shapiro, Destiny Cooper, an integrative media major at Wilkes perceives this practice as disrespectful.

Cooper states that this is “the type of mentality that’s going to lead to other generations into thinking it’s okay to portray these different races in a way that’s comical–that’s what they used to do in the past with cartoons.”

The junior is referencing the caricatures used to make fun of black individuals and people of color to support efforts to portray these races and ethnicities as inferior to another race or the European race.

This phenomenon has the ability to create a culture of averting the issue and ignoring the presence of racist practices. Appropriating the cultures of other ethnicities via costumes is highly offensive and should be taken seriously.

Respect others cultures by simply researching the historical background of the style or costume and using it in the right context if it is ethical to do so.