A Halloween PSA

As we approach Halloween, let’s remember that cultures are not costumes.


by Faith Andrews-O'Neal, Writer

As you may know, on the 31st of October a holiday by the name of Halloween will occur. This is a great opportunity for some amazing costumes! So much can go right! You can be your favorite tv character or a celebrity you’re obsessed with at the moment. You can be a walking pun or a human sized version of your favorite thing. You can be anybody your heart desires!

But please, on that fateful Tuesday, or the parties beforehand, I ask that you think before you dress.

Before I get ahead of myself, to fully understand what I mean, you need to understand a little something known as cultural appropriation. Wikipedia defines it as “the adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.” However, it goes a little deeper than that. Maisha Z. Johnson breaks it down pretty well as a “power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.” This leads to the perpetuation of stereotypes, and the upholding of a system that constantly undervalues people of color.

You may think to yourself: So what if I put on a little extra bronzer, or throw a few cornrows in my hair? It’s not  {insert character of color here} without it! But get ready for the biggest plot twist of 2017: it really, truly, honestly is! The inmate costume is enough without the cornrows, you can be Beyonce without blackface and if you need to push terrible stereotypes to get your point across, just stay away from the costume altogether. When you dress up as a convict, by wearing cornrows, you are building a connection between a traditionally black hairstyle and crime. When you dress up as a person of color and alter your appearance to more closely resemble their race, you allude to a very hurtful and very racist past, one from which we are still recovering.

If racism didn’t exist, a lot of this wouldn’t be a problem. There would be no need for this discussion, because we could all be equals, sharing and enjoying each other’s culture. Sadly, that is not the reality we live in. Black women are still seen as “trashy” and “ghetto” for the same styles many white people wear for fun. I can still recall the sting of being called “Travis”, the rapper known for his sometimes-unkempt braided hairstyle, for the rest of my eighth grade year after finally feeling brave enough to wear cornrows to school one time. Imagine that: having to build up the courage to wear a hairstyle invented by your culture, and not only being mocked for it, but watching non-black students recieve compliments for the same thing. It sucks, and it hurts, and I’m reminded of it every time I go get my hair braided. People of color are constantly having their identities invalidated, and some non-POC are benefitting from the harmful backlash all for the sake of “fun”. This is the problem of cultural appropriation, and why we have to be more aware of our actions, even as seemingly insignificant as a Halloween costume.

So, to sum up this post, I would like to say that we would all do well to remember that people’s cultures are not costumes. There are ways to dress up as characters of color without being disrespectful, and I encourage everyone to do a little research and figure those ways out for yourself. Put down the bronzer, wear your hair in a ponytail, and consider others this Halloween.