Spooky Season is among us, but for people of color (POC for short) and Black students the fear is real.
These students fear cultural appropriation, and/or a mockery of their ethnic identities by students outside of their ethnic group. Cultural appropriation is defined as ‘ is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture.’
Cultural appropriation isn’t inherently negative, but controversy arises when the group or culture being appropriated isn’t acknowledged, is discredited or is mocked. Cultural appropriation is not a new topic and the incidents don’t only pertain Halloween, but the risk of appropriating a culture offensively is higher during Halloween. We can help avoid offending our peers this Halloween by being mindful of our costumes and asking ourselves these questions:
Does my costume reflect a culture and if so, what is its cultural significance? While it may seem harmless to dress up as a “gypsy”, it’s actually offensive. ‘Gypsy’ is a slur and the proper term is Roma. The Roma people were oppressed for centuries and that is still true today. Dressing up as Roma while being completely oblivious to the fact that they are real people with real world problems is insensitive.
Am I cosplaying a historical or public figure of another race? Can I effectively dress up as this figure without copying physical attributes?
If you need to change the colour of your skin or modify physical features (aside from dressing up as a fantasy character, ie an alien,Chewbacca), then choose a different costume. You may think you’re being creative but to your peers of colour, it looks like mockery. Ethnicity is not a costume.
Not a lot of high school students want to mock a culture, but maybe you don’t see why it matters. It’s Halloween, you’re just having fun and isn’t America a melting pot anyway? Why should you have to care so much about what you dress up as for one night in the year?
While it may just seem like a costume, these “costumes” are reflections of the lives that Black and POC live daily. These are not persona they can take off when the bell strikes 12 and they’d appreciate it if you didn’t treat their culture or physical attributes as props. Senior Nicole-Antoinette Urbina-Ruiz said, “If you have any questions about it [your costume] ask someone of the culture- ‘what do you think of this [costume]? How can I do it tastefully?”
There may be a hesitation, but many students are open to sharing and discussing their culture if done respectfully. Saira Faisal, a senior of Pakistani descent, said she would “ love it if I saw someone in a Sari.”
If you’re thinking of dressing up as something cultural this Halloween, ask someone from that culture if that’s OK or how you can do it respectfully, they can even make your costume better and you’ll learn something too.