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Halloween costumes and cultural appropriation

Christina Laderoute
Connector Staff

A big topic of concern this year is cultural appropriation in costumes. Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. As of lately, more and more people have been speaking out on Halloween costumes that can be considered offensive. On one side, there are people that feel that these costumes are not an issue, while on the other side, there are people writing letters to companies to have costumes removed from shelves and expressing their feelings that they are offended by these costumes.

A look that has received a lot of backlash recently is the “Native American” or “Indian” costume. The Native American headdress that many have used to accessorize is not just cultural garb, but it is also spiritual garb. Revered elders have earned them through their selflessness and leadership. According to Simon Moya-Smith, “Wearing one, even an imitation head- dress, belittles what our elders have spent a lifetime to earn.”

In the case of feathers and face paint, these too also have purpose and spiritual significance. These items are earned through actions and deeds that bring honor to tribes and nations. Dennis Zotigh, a cultural specialist, compares wearing feathers and face paint to wearing a purple heart or medal of honor by those who have not earned them.

Another costume that is accused of appropriation is a “Gypsy.”

The Roma are often stereotyped as being beggars, pickpockets and con-artists. The terms “I got conned” and “I got gypped” are used interchangeably. Instead of offsetting these stereotypes, Gypsy costumes encourage them. The Roma have been persecuted for a long time now and they continue to face discrimination throughout Europe. Around 1.5 million Roma were executed during the Holocaust. According to Amnesty International, the Roma are presently denied housing rights, employment, healthcare and education. A Romani woman said, “It’s unfortunate that this fascination does not extend to philanthropy, awareness, education and actual respect, something we seem to be denied as a people time and time again. It’s much more fun to perpetuate the stereotypes than to talk about the dreary truth.” Perhaps learning more about a costumes background before deciding to wear it would be beneficial.

There have been remarks made pertaining to a costume related to the upcoming Disney movie, “Moana.” Disney put out a costume for the character Maui, a big muscled Hawaiian, who is voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the movie. When the costume debuted there was a large uproar over the elements of it. Someone who identifies as Polynesian tweeted, “Our Brown Skin/Ink’s NOT a costume.” The use of “brownfac- ing” was deemed offensive, although this is the replica of what the movie character looked like.

When it comes to Halloween costumes, there are many blurred lines on what people deem appropriate and inappropriate. People we can- not always please everyone. Someone is always going to be offended. So this year when it comes to picking a costume, if one has to ask, “is someone going to be offended by this costume choice?” then pick another costume. That is all up to personal preference though. Just be aware that comments may be made. Do not wear anything in bad taste and be prepared to answer questions if the costume seems to be culturally appropriating.

Christina Laderoute

Music photojournalist. President of UML's student-run record label, Seven Six Records.

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