• Project Angel Island

Cultural Appropriation in Costumes

It is estimated that more than 148 million Americans will celebrate Halloween this year. While there is great fun in dressing up as anything under the sun, there are a few exceptions. Over the years, there have been many instances where people have imitated different cultures for the sake of a costume. The problem with this is that most of these costumes are based on caricatures and/or stereotypes of different cultures that were made in bad taste by that outside of said cultures. The act of ignorance such as dressing up as a different race is very harmful to those inside and outside of the specific ethnic group. Aside from the obvious insensitivity, costumes based on races and cultures often work to build a certain narrative of their respective races and perpetuate stereotypes that these groups are working so hard to erase.

Dressing up as someone from a different culture is called cultural appropriation. In this context, cultural appropriation is the imitation of other cultures and doing so for a costume or performance. The very idea that something sacred to or belonging to another culture is something that can be worn and discarded is extremely insulting to the people those traditions belong to and should be avoided. This is because it dehumanizes the ethnic group where the tradition is from and disregards its entire history. To better illustrate the history behind cultural appropriation, a Teen Vogue author wrote, "[cultural appropriation is] the manifestation of one of the earliest, most enduring racist ideals: the belief that people who belong to marginalized cultures are somehow less than human."

While some examples such as a geisha, “Native American princess,” “Mexican” (the sombrero, mustache, poncho, and maraca ensemble), and “Bollywood star” may be more obvious, some may not be. Some lesser-known examples are the “ninja” (a parody from real figures in Japanese history), “Egyptian queen” (a caricature of Egyptian peoples), something from the “Day of the Dead” (a Mexican holiday that commemorates deceased loved ones), and a g*psy (a caricature of the Romani people, who were persecuted throughout Europe). These examples show how these types of costumes are not only disrespectful, but they may originate from times of fear and stigmatization surrounding different cultures. For these reasons, it is better just to stick to characters (preferably of the same race as the person who is wearing the costume), vampires, ghosts, witches, and anything else that is inside your own culture.

By: Robin Bank

Writer + Graphic Designer



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