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April 11, 2024

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Spring Housing Guide

How to avoid appropriating a halloween costume

Ben Cook | Reporter

As we near Halloween, it is incredibly important to be mindful of the costume you choose and to make sure that said costume is not harmful to others.

One way to stay mindful is to avoid turning a negative experience into your costume. Steer clear of topics like eating disorders, homophobia, transphobia, body shaming, objectification, homelessness, animal abuse and mental illness. If there is a question of whether or not your costume falls into one of these categories, then it is likely in poor taste.

Another simple rule of thumb is to avoid dressing up as individuals or groups who have impacted history in an extremely negative way. This includes serial killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy or groups like the Nazis, Klansmen, terrorists and more. Wearing these costumes normalizes their place in society when they should be condoned and can potentially re-traumatize victims and survivors.

This also applies to dressing up as someone that comes from a time period of much pain, such as with Anne Frank. It is considered inappropriate and insensitive to exploit someone’s trauma and the shared suffering of millions for the sake of your Halloween costume.

However, whether by accident or on purpose, the cultural appropriation of halloween costumes continues to be a huge problem. Cultural appropriation is the use of one or more elements from a culture other than one’s own with no appreciation for the history and/or context in which these elements came from.

Dr. Jessica Birch, an associate teaching professor at BGSU, focuses on educating others about how cultural narratives justify and perpetuate social inequality using the theoretical lenses of feminist theory, critical race theory, critical pedagogy and cultural studies. She explained how these costumes impact the individuals whose cultures are being worn as costumes.

“Culture is treated as a resource to extract from people of color, where people take what they want and discard everything else. They often even change the name of a style or garment to further erase its history, and are often praised for it, while those to whom it culturally belongs are criticized for wearing it. Cultural appropriation is an act of erasure,” Birch said.

Exploiting another race or culture is wildly inappropriate, as it promotes ideas of social inequality, racism and injustice. While the term may feel relatively new in recent years, it has been around for over thirty years, as people of color spoke on the injustices of cultural appropriation. 

This problem doesn’t just appear in costumes, it can be seen in everything from jewelry to sports mascots. In any context, cultural appropriation remains harmful. But how do you know whether your costume is culturally insensitive? Ask yourself these questions.

“Is this a costume whose origin is from a different culture that you aren’t part of? If yes, do you know its history and context within that culture? If yes, did you get it directly from someone whose culture it is, whether as a gift or as a purchase? If yes, are you wearing it in circumstances that would be appropriate within that culture? If the answer to any of these questions except the first one is ‘no’, then it is not appropriate for you to wear it as a costume,” Birch said.

There are a wide variety of costumes that were created on the basis of cultural appropriation. A short list would include blackface, headdresses, religious gods, goddesses or symbols, genies, geishas, rastafarian dreads and sugar skulls. To keep it simple, do not wear a costume whose culture is not yours.

If you see any of these attributes in a costume, or feel that something you see is culturally insensitive, if you’re comfortable, the best thing to do is talk directly to that person and inform them of what their costume represents and how it can be harmful to others.

“Nothing changes if we don’t make it change, but keep in mind that people may genuinely not understand that they’re engaging in cultural appropriation. You can say something like, ‘Hey, you might not have realized this, but the costume you’re wearing is kind of making other people’s culture into a costume, and that can give the impression that you’re making fun of that culture,’“ Birch said.

Remember to be mindful this Halloween, and dress appropriately. There are millions of costumes to choose from out there that are not offensive, harmful or culturally insensitive. Get creative, and have a Happy Halloween.

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