Understand cultural appreciation: How to not dress offensively on Halloween

As we all know, Halloween is a special occasion when it's acceptable to dress any way you like and to freely express yourself. People spend months brainstorming ideas, shopping online and crafting outfits from scratch to ensure they stand out from the basic witches and halfway done zombies. But sometimes, people go so above and beyond the typical costume, they cross the line from creative and expensive to messed up and offensive.

Every year, media outlets light up with celebrities in blackface, children in scandalous attire and college campuses throwing racist-themed parties, stimulating a controversial conversation that loosely defines the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.

Cultural appropriation is the practice of using certain elements of a culture by a member of another culture in a negative way. Cultural appreciation is the opposite — using these cultural elements in a positive way. These unspecific definitions leave plenty of room for lines to be blurred between what is acceptable and what is not, on a day specifically dedicated to dressing up that makes people feel the pressure to stray from boring costume ideas. 

Although we don’t want to put a damper on your Halloween plans to dress up as Lil Wayne or a Japanese Geisha, we do want to give you some tips on how to avoid the witch trials and still embody your favorite alter-ego that may be from a different race or culture than you.

DON'T inaccurately represent that race.

So you want to be a Native American this Halloween? However harmless you may think going to Wal-Mart and picking out the felt pseudo-loincloth and a headdress labeled “Indian” may be, our country has many Native Americans who dress in every-day western fashion just as you do — neither of these parties are "Indians." Despite what Christopher Columbus believed, Indians are actually from India. Same goes for the “sexy Geisha,” or “cute Eskimo.” So, unless you are trying to appreciate another culture, perhaps consider wearing a different costume.

DON’T wear blackface, yellowface or redface.

Because of the many times this has been scrutinized in the media, you would think people would get the message to not do it. However, every year, some celebrity — or in this year’s case, an Alabama teacher — wears blackface and is shamed online for it. Blackface emerged as a form of entertainment for the white population in the 1800s, and yes, it was created to ridicule black people, who were thought to be intellectually inferior. Painting your face the color of another race is offense to the people of that race because of the history tied to the action. You can dress up as Lebron James, The Braves mascot and Lil' Kim (well done, Miley Cyrus) without painting your face.

DON’T dress “ghetto,” “gangsta,” “cholo/a,” “fat,” or “gay"

These terms are typically used to negatively describe people from a specific race or social construct and are disgustingly portrayed on Halloween. By dressing “ghetto” or “cholo” in a stereotypical, negative manner, you are degrading specific cultures of a race, ethnicity or gender and insinuating that these cultures are inferior to yours by stripping these cultures of the beauty that makes them unique and different.

How you portray yourself on Halloween, and even more importantly, how you label your costume, says a lot about who you are as a person. If you want to reflect the wonderful person you are, avoid offending people of other cultures. Follow these simple tips and learn how to appreciate culture rather than trying to appropriate it. 


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