Halloween is not free pass to culturally appropriate

Maria Kroeger

Editor's note: This is one half of a point-counterpoint. To read the other side, click here.

You’re walking around the Spirit Halloween store scrambling for a last-minute costume. A poster with a beautiful brunette stands out amongst those with clowns and zombies. Her hair is shiny and curled underneath an aztec-printed headwrap. Her chest is framed by a waterfall of brown, faux-leather fringe. Tanned, shapely legs are set atop a pedestal of brown, high-kneed moccasin boots. The “Raven Native American Adult Women’s Costume” seems like the perfect outfit to look cute and unique. Unfortunately, it’s highly offensive.  

This costume is an example of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is known as when people take themes and practices out of context from other cultures, without knowing the historical and social implications of them. Many find this offensive because they believe those “appropriating” do not have to deal with the difficult parts of being a member of that culture.

Often people appropriate cultures for their own personal benefit — whether it’s to look cool in unique clothing, be funny at costume parties or get Instagram likes with a beautiful outfit that is culturally significant to someone else.

Putting on a sombrero when going to a Mexican restaurant, wearing a Native American headdress to a music festival or wearing a Geisha costume for Halloween are all examples of cultural appropriation. Granted, cultural ideals and symbols get muddled through cultural exchange. But the difference between exchange and appropriation is exchange involves a respect and understanding of the culture that embodies positive elements and has a purpose besides personal gain. Cultural appropriation steals elements from a culture without respect or understanding.             

Halloween costumes that draw from negative stereotypes are the perfect example of cultural appropriation. They are based on generalizations and are often caricatures. Wearing a poncho, fake mustache and carrying around a bottle of tequila is offensive because it perpetuates stereotypes about Mexicans, while viewing the harm as a big joke.

Yes, Halloween is a great opportunity to dress as something you’re not. But for many people, things like the “Exotic Goddess Adult Women’s Costume,” which features a sari, is not a disguise. It is an everyday style of clothing that represents South Asian cultures.                            

Culturally appropriative Halloween costumes are racist because they assume the identities of people of color who are oppressed as minorities. A person of color can’t choose to not be who they are. People of color face all kinds of hardships because of their identity — it’s a privilege to put it on and take it off for a night. There are a million creative, fun things people can be for Halloween. Don’t choose to wear something offensive that can ruin the night for someone else.

Maria Kroeger is a human relations senior from Corpus Christi. Follow Kroeger on Twitter @hotdudesreading_