Dressing up as a cultural stereotype is never, ever OK.
Ah, Halloween. The holiday that has become a minefield for cultural appropriation missteps. So, here’s a super friendly reminder: dressing up as a cultural stereotype is never, ever OK. And in case you needed a refresher, culturally appropriative Halloween costumes are offensive because it reduces a culture to, well, a literal costume — one that certain groups of people can take off, but others live with every day.
Announced Oct. 1, 2020, Pinterest won’t be promoting culturally insensitive Halloween costumes. "As a platform for positivity, we want to make it easy to find culturally-appropriate Halloween ideas," a blog post from the company states, "and bring awareness to the fact that costumes should not be opportunities to turn a person’s identity into a stereotyped image." Starting Halloween 2020, Pinterest won’t be using its platform to bolster costumes that perpetuate such stereotypes.
Cultural appropriation is "the manifestation of one of the earliest, most enduring racist ideals: the belief that people who belong to marginalized cultures are somehow less than human," Jessica Andrews wrote for Teen Vogue. Further, as Osamudia James, professor and vice dean at the University of Miami School of Law, wrote for the Washington Post, "Conduct that presents white people as normal while presenting other groups as exotic … is racist." Translation: when white people dress like stereotyped versions of people of color for Halloween, it’s racist and hurtful.
So what does that look like? What counts as cultural appropriation? According to Marie Claire, the simple answer to that is you shouldn’t dress up as a marginalized culture that isn’t your own, and you most definitely shouldn’t paint or color your skin to match someone else’s. But that can get a little complicated when it comes to movie and TV show characters. Such was the case when Moana‘s popularity sparked a debate around whether it was appropriate to dress a child as the character for Halloween. However, even dressing as some of our favorite characters can cross the line into cultural appropriation. As a gentle reminder of where that line is, these are 10 culturally appropriative Halloween costumes you should definitely never wear.
Movies and TV make ninjas look super sexy, but most of what we know about ninjas is wrong, Kotaku reports. Ninjas aren’t super sneaky characters that fight in dark shadows. They’re real people who existed in Japan and did similar work to our modern-day CIA, says Kotaku. This costume is essentially a parody of the real-life ninjas who existed in Japan.
Even if you’re taking a costume from "history," it can still bring up ugly reminders of a violent past. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, the ankh, which is what the woman in this picture is holding, was appropriated by the Christians in the 4th century CE as a symbol for their god. This might just seems like a beautiful costume, but it’s a symbol of a culture that was violently appropriated centuries ago.
According to NPR, "voodoo" is often used as a catch-all term for several related religions practiced in Louisiana, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. The most well-known in America, says NPR, is Haitian Vodou. None of these religions bear any resemblance to the Hollywood versions of voodoo, NPR reports, so dressing as a "voodoo witch doctor" for Halloween only exacerbates harmful stereotypes about real religions.
Dressing up like another racial group for Halloween is never acceptable. Ever. This costume is especially gross considering the mass genocide of Indigenous Americans during the time of the United States’ founding, and considering that Native Americans continue to experience discrimination on an exceptionally high level, according to NPR. In recent years, popular costume retailers like Yandy have removed "Native American" costumes. However, they’re
Halloween and the Day of the Dead are not the same, and even if they were, it wouldn’t be cool to use symbols from the latter to celebrate the former. According to Pop Sugar, Día De Los Muertos is a Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1 — which is All Souls Day — to honor friends and family who have passed away. Sugar skulls or Calaveras, says Pop Sugar, are a symbol of Día De Los Muertos, not a costume for people to take on an off.
Many don the geisha "costume" under the assumption that it’s "sexy," but there are a number of reasons why that’s super not cool. For one: geishas were entertainers, but they were not sex workers, as many people falsely believe. For another: It’s deeply problematic to dress up as a stereotyped version of a cultural figure. Just don’t do it.
Costumes that perpetuate Mexican stereotypes — sombreros, ponchos, dresses meant to look like the Mexican flag — reduce a culture down to a handful of offensive, often white-washed icons. They also typically conflate "Mexican" with Latinx people as a whole. The motive behind these costumes is often to have the wearer take on the appearance and symbols of another culture for a night. Mexican culture is not a costume.
Bollywood is a popular genre around the world, but wearing traditional Indian dress and calling it "Bollywood" isn’t a costume — it’s an offensive stereotype that flattens of all Indian culture into one trope. Selena Gomez’s 2013 MTV Movie Awards performance, for example, got mixed responses from Hindu leaders and Indian celebrities. Here’s an easy rule of thumb: If you need to explain why your costume "isn’t racist," perhaps you should reconsider your costume.
The "G" word is actually a racial slur, according to the National Organization for Women, because it has historically been used to stigmatize and discriminate against Romani people, an actual ethnic minority group with a history of persecution in Europe. It isn’t code for a free-spirited person with wanderlust, and costumes appropriating this culture play into that history of discrimination.
Costumes that equate clothing associated with Middle Eastern culture as "terrorist" outfits perpetuate disparaging stereotypes. They often incorporate items that imply violence, ultimately reducing a diverse group of people down to a single, stereotypic monolith.
Most of these examples are fairly obvious because they depict racial stereotypes that, honestly, should’ve disappeared a long, long time ago. Fortunately — and, again, obviously — there are many, many, many Halloween costumes that don’t culturally appropriate and aren’t offensive. If you’re ever in doubt about whether your costume is culturally appropriative, go with your gut and choose something else.
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