By Dezarae Churchill
From pumpkin patches to haunted farms, spooky season is in full swing, and soon most of us will be attending costume parties or passing out candy to the neighborhood goblins.
Some of us spend weeks preparing for Halloween night. Choosing the perfect costume is often more important than the party itself.
But as the 31st approaches, we are also likely to see someone wearing a culturally inappropriate costume — including so-called “costumes” that perpetuate racial stereotypes. The top five such costumes on a list compiled by Bustle.com are Ninja, Voodoo Doctor, Native Princess, Day of the Dead Skulls, and Geishas.
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at William Peace University held the discussion “Our Culture is Not a Costume” Sept. 27, highlighting these cultural insensitivities and how to combat them.
One example they discussed is Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, a celebration of life and remembrance of deceased family members. Sugar skulls and other treats are left out during the celebration to honor lost loved ones. During the celebration, families paint their faces in the style of Calaveras. Sometimes we see Americans use this style and paint the “sugar skulls” on their faces for Halloween. Calaveras have deep spiritual significance, and aren’t just “pretty skeletons”.
Jasanee Killins is a sophomore anthropology and English Major and DEEP leader. She highlighted the dichotomy of white privilege and marginalized people. Her sentiments were that it is bizarre to want to put someone’s else’s face on for the day. But to do it without the ability to comprehend their identity, or validate their struggle, is disrespectful.
Without firsthand experience of a racialized America, it is difficult for white individuals to see how deeply racism is woven into American culture. Therefore, it is impossible to understand how damaging it is to impersonate others on Halloween.
“Even with good intentions, you could be appropriating cultures,” said Killins.
She encourages us to steer away from cultural stereotypes altogether.
Another DEEP leader, Kiera Williams, was also a part of the discussion. She said to dress us as your favorite celebrity is great, but it’s never okay to alter your pigmentation. If you want to be Queen Bey, tease your hair, wear your best mini dress, but skip the dark bronzer and deep foundation.
Many of these costumes are either hyper sexualizing a group of people, such as the Indian Princess costumes, or they are playing into the worst stereotypes about a group of people.
We see this when people choose to wear Indigenous attire. They often are seen wearing animal hide, ceremonial headdresses and a slightly painted face. The face paint is reminiscent of the stereotype of Indigenous being “savages,” while headdresses in native tribes are known as war bonnets and worn with pride and exhibit honor.
America has deep wounds with both Indigenous and Black communities. The common excuse of those who wear cultural attire as costumes is that they didn’t know any better.
“Context and nuance is important in America, there’s no excuse,” said Williams, a WPU junior who is majoring in biology.
Halloween has a tradition in America of highlighting our history of racial ignorance and insensitivity. There is a level of unawareness or disregard with respect to costumes resulting in appropriation and disrespect.
The allure of Halloween is spending the night as someone or something that you are not.
Dressing up as Frankenstein is acceptable, because we can’t actually become a subhuman fictional character. But wearing culturally significant attire on Halloween often falls within the realm of cultural insensitivity. While imitating a person is adoration, imitating a culture is appropriation.
Be mindful this season.
Keep it spooky, and scary, but sensible.
Original Artwork by Heather Spataro