Whether you’re attending a party, going trick-or-treating, or just staying in, putting on a costume is a classic way to get into the spirit of Halloween. When those outfits are comprised of elements of other cultures, however, it becomes less of a celebration and more of a sign of disrespect, as it often makes fun of or devalues different communities.
Culturally appropriative outfits are not limited to just one culture. While many people think of blackface as the main example, Native American, Mexican, and different Asian cultures are are also commonly misrepresented. According to an article by Refinery29, a women’s lifestyle website, specific aspects like facial features and articles of clothing play off stereotypes that are harmful to the community because of their mocking nature.
Sophomore journalism major Manami Fujiwara said she has seen many outfits that have appropriated her Japanese heritage and generalized all people of Asian descent. She said that when she sees people misrepresent a culture in a costume, she recognizes that they want to appreciate it, but that there are less offensive ways to do so.
“I’m happy that people [dress up] in these cultural things, but I want to tell them that it’s wrong, because [reality] is totally different,” Fujiwara said.
Fujiwara said that, for example, she sees people assuming that all people of Asian descent look the same.
“If people try to make their eyes smaller, it’s kind of annoying,” Fujiwara said. “It’s [offensive] that people have stereotypes.”
Director of Multicultural Student Affairs and GLBTQ Student Resources Tikesha Morgan added that if you want to dress up as a specific person of a different culture, there are ways to do it without being offensive.
“If you want to dress up as Barack Obama, you don’t have to wear face paint,” Morgan said. “Just dress up in a suit and speak with his mannerism. You don’t need to don makeup.”
Freshman writing, literature and publishing major Malcom Zelaya stated that he has seen quite a few misrepresentation of cultures at Halloween parties, including Native American costumes and blackface.
“I think it’s taking someone’s culture and using it in a way that isn’t appropriate,” Zelaya said. “You’re not necessarily mocking the culture, but the culture may not really appreciate [it].”
Zelaya also said that people appear uneducated about the world around them when they choose to stereotype a culture for their own holiday enjoyment.
“I think you make yourself look like a fool—you look silly,” Zelaya said. “It’s almost kind of having a lack of self-respect.”
Morgan said that informing people of the offensive nature of dressing as a culture is the most important tool in stopping the problematic costumes.
“Many times it’s just people who don’t know and they need to be educated on what’s okay,” Morgan said. “I don’t go at it with the mindset of attacking people because a lot of the time people just don’t know they need to be educated. They have to take it upon themselves to educate themselves.”
Morgan also said that many people leave out the LGBTQ+ community when discussing culturally appropriative costumes, but that there are many offensive ones out there about that community.
“Right now, [the costumes] center around being trans because there’s such a spotlight right now on people like Caitlyn Jenner,” Morgan said. “People now want to take it and make fun of it. That is not something we make fun of.”
Morgan said that people tend to forget that even if they only do it once, it sticks with them for their entire life.
“If you’re looking to grow your friend group and people you work with, [dressing in cultures] is probably not the best choice because someone is going to remember,” said Morgan. “When you graduate or you’re applying for a job, people will be like, ‘Oh, that’s the one who wore the Mexican costume!’ People remember those things.”
Morgan said that the most important thing to remember is that there are serious implications to using someone else’s culture as a costume, and they need to be considered before making the choice.
“These are people’s cultures; these are people’s lives,” Morgan said. “So, for me, that’s what’s so offensive about it. This whole thought that you get to put this on for a day and be something else for a little while—this is so problematic when this is how someone is really living.”