By: Jordan Graber
Content Warning: This article contains a racial slur.
From the candy to the decorations and the costumes, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. When I was young, I loved to dress up as the basic Halloween ensembles like Count Dracula and Sleeping Beauty.
As I grew older and became more exposed to the overarch of social media, I became more aware of the issues surrounding the cultural appropriation and essential jokes made by seemingly innocent costumes worn on Halloween.
In this new light, I began to understand the distaste of several of the costumes that I have chosen to wear over the years, such as my gypsy costume or my Native American princess. These were costumes that, at the time, I thought nothing of but in reality, have negative connotations and may be seen as oppressive and offensive to certain groups.
Just last year, a sophomore attending University of Central Arkansas sported “blackface” to a fraternity party on campus, posing the famous comedian Bill Cosby. After posting a photo of his get-up captioned, “It was a bold night,” the image went viral and he received large amounts of outrage and backlash, which included threats against his life. He later posted an apology on Instagram which outlined his regret of the offense that he had caused, as well as the fact that until that night, he had apparently never heard of the term “blackface” or the negative connotations that went along with it.
Unfortunately, it is a common misconception that these costumes are okay, and the student is not the only one who doesn’t realize the serious offense taken in misrepresentation. This includes, but is not limited to, Julianne Hough sporting blackface while dressing as a popular Orange is the new black character, young people dressing as “sexy terrorists,” a young woman dressing as a Boston marathon bombing victim, sexy ebola nurses, eskimos and Native American chiefs. These costumes continue to be mass produced and sold in everyday stores and Halloween pop-ups, driving the idea that these are somehow actually okay to wear.
Intentions do not matter when representations are all that people can see. Disney princess or not; think about the ramifications. You can choose to be whatever and whoever you want for a day, just don’t make it at the expense of another.
Costumes are a fun and exciting way to be what you can’t be everyday. By no means is this something that should go away, but a certain amount of consideration is required when deciding what to wear.
Representations, whether they are recreational or intentional, call for some sensitivity.
Dressing to represent any sort of lifestyle or experience that is not your own is offensive and oppressive to the identity of another, no matter what the intention is. The people that we may want to dress up as represent real lives, experiences and histories.
A “sexy “gypsy” costume can be worn for a fun (and hopefully legal) night and then taken off the next day, but the person wearing the costume may not understand the very real harassment Romani people face in Europe. Likewise, one can dress up as a “sexy terrorist” for a Halloween bash while there are real Muslim men and women out there who are discriminated against based on this awful stereotype.
To make a costume out of something that represents the experience of another is to make fun of a group’s passions and struggles. It deems their life experiences unworthy of real acknowledgement, insinuating that these lifestyles are ones that are thoroughly understood by all. Traditions, heartbreaks, tragedies and passions are all made into nothing more than a costume. It strips people of their individuality.
Cultures are not costumes. Gender or sexual identities are not costumes. The sexualization of real people and minorities, and costumes referring to violence against women is not okay. Essentially, if you have to ask yourself if what you are wearing is culturally appropriative or offensive in any way, it might be time to get yourself a new ensemble.
There are people who face real discrimination, poverty and violence as a part of their everyday identity. This Halloween, be mindful of the costume you are choosing to wear. Intentions do not matter when representations are all that people can see. Disney princess or not; think about the ramifications. You can choose to be whatever and whoever you want for a day, just don’t make it at the expense of another.