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  • Writer's pictureUmaSofia Srivastava

Halloween Costumes: Appropriation or Appreciation?

Is the distinction between the two necessary, or is it an obstacle in the road to equality?

With October 31st rapidly approaching, adults and kids alike are starting to rush to their local Halloween store to load up on candy and costumes. As a longstanding American tradition, many view Halloween as a reason to come together and be part of something bigger than themselves, a holiday where everyone is viewed as equal in their elaborate disguises. However, there has been long standing controversy on some of the costumes that are chosen to be worn, like those dressed as geishas, ninjas, Egyptian goddesses and native Americans. The question is, are these people belittling or admiring the culture of others?

Some people believe that as long as someone understands the history and meaning behind a specific garment or style, it's alright for them to adopt it even if they're not part of that culture. Others argue that it's simply common decency to leave said items to those who deserve to be given reparations; something that belongs only to a specific culture, and is not “colonized” by a race that has never truly experienced inequality. But when does this get out of hand? Isn’t not sharing one another's culture segregating society further, which is the opposite of what is intended? After all, cultural appropriation only occurs when there is ignorance, whether intentionally, or unintentionally. In order for us to achieve true equality, we must stop trying to play a zero sum game, and instead share cultural identities as well as respect those that are shared with us.

For instance, some dispute that if an Indian person can dye their hair blonde, that a white person should be allowed to wear traditional Indian clothes, like a sari or kurta. The problem arises because blonde hair does not have any culture behind it as compared to that of the sari, which has been used in various religious rituals since its creation. Contributing to the issue is also the disrespecting of traditional garments, such as over sexualized costumes of POC; for example princesses such as Jasmine, Pocahontas and Mulan. As a WOC, I know that young girls like myself already get such little representation, and so objectifying garments like the sari and cheongsam for a holiday mostly marketed towards kids, reinforces the already prevalent idea that their cultures are lesser than others. The effect this could potentially have on the upcoming generation is just a small part of the much bigger issue of orientalist stereotypes.

While there are blatantly offensive costumes that play directly into racial and sexist stereotypes, there are also culturally accurate costumes as well. Continuing the example from earlier, if a person were to wear an appropriate version of the sari or kurta, could this be seen as respectful of the culture, and therefore ok to wear? Still, people argue that wearing any type of cultural attire for such a trivial holiday takes away from any good intentions that person may have had.

With the culture of the world shifting to focus more on difficult, and what some might find uncomfortable topics like racism, traditions with xenophobic undertones are being scrutinized. While Halloween might seem like a frivolous children's holiday, the debate it spurs is very much relevant. So if you're thinking about wearing a controversial costume this Halloween, ask yourself: Is it really worth the possible risk of coming across as disrespectful?


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