This Halloween, avoid a culturally appropriated costumes

Culturally appropriated costumes are harmful and stigmatizing.

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Halloween embraces the abnormal — it encourages unhealthy habits, happily evokes terror and suggests temporarily disowning your identity. And while it is a celebration that disregards some societal standards, it does not welcome disrespect. There is still an overall decency that needs to be considered, especially before stepping into costume and out into the world.

Perhaps at one point or another this phrase graced your Twitter or Facebook: “We’re a culture, not a costume.” The expression comes from an ad campaign designed by Ohio University students in 2011, and it strives to inform people about the negative impacts of cultural appropriation. The ads emphasize that culturally appropriated costumes are not only harmful, but they also reiterate the stigma felt by the people to which the culture belongs.

Whether you revel in the art of costume-making or haphazardly throw together odds and ends at the last minute, keep in mind that it is never acceptable to exploit another culture’s traditional dress and call it a costume.

Native American headdresses, kimonos, Geisha makeup and African tribal makeup are examples of cultural ideals that are deeply rooted in tradition. They serve ceremonial, religious and ancestral purposes. Misusing these tangible representations can cause harm to those being depicted and belittles their traditions.

And while it may seem obvious that portraying a race that is not your own is blatantly racist, avoid blackface at all costs. Maybe less obvious, dressing as a Nazi or Hitler is also racist. These figures represent a grim period of time where the Jewish population were targeted and the effects still resonate today.

This year, keep it culturally aware and remember that Halloween is a celebration that should be light-hearted while remaining respectable. So, throw on a wacky costume, indulge in endless confections and accept Halloween’s freakish festivities without risking cultural appropriation.

Edited by Brooke Collier | bcollier@themaneater.com

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