Drawing the line between costumes and cultural appropriation


Avani Munji

Halloween is most recognizable for the fun costumes people wear to celebrate it; however, it is important to recognize that some outfits are not costumes and should not be worn as such. The Sidekick executive editorial page editor Manasa Mohan thinks people should consider the negative effects their Halloween costumes might have on specific groups of people.

Manasa Mohan, Executive Editorial Page Editor

The leaves changing colors from a vibrant green to burnt orange and red indicates one thing: the coming of fall and Halloween. 

This time of year is characterized by people living out their wildest dreams and dressing up as whoever or whatever they want, going around their neighborhood and getting free candy. 

Halloween is all fun and games until you realize the holiday is a cover for people dressing up in blatantly offensive costumes, the most common of which include indigenous costumes or those that engage in cultural appropriation. Dressing up in such costumes is not appropriate regardless of the occasion or the candy you get at the end of the night. 

Dressing up in an offensive costume teaches others that similar behavior is acceptable in society and that it is OK to mock certain aspects of people’s culture or history.

— Manasa Mohan

Children are often subject to wearing these costumes without knowing how it comes across to others. Young kids have yet to learn about cultural appropriation and the controversy that could surround their costume and therefore wear whatever their parents dress them up in. It is their parents’ job to ensure that their costume is acceptable and educate their children on which costumes are appropriate and which are not. Parents should take it upon themselves to explain the disrespect that occurs when their child imitates a culture that is not their own in an offensive way. 

There are some costumes, however, that appreciate certain cultures, ultimately creating a fine line between what is acceptable and what is not. Take, for instance, the popular Disney princess: Jasmine. It is fair and acceptable to dress up as your favorite princess; however, it is not acceptable to wear makeup to make your skin tone darker in hopes to appear more like Jasmine. Appreciating cultural differences is far different from mocking and making fun of them.

Some may argue that it is just a Halloween costume and people should not have to worry about being “canceled” over a tradition. But dressing up inappropriately goes beyond that. It can end up perpetuating stereotypes in society and implant an idea in one’s head that may not necessarily be true. Dressing up in an offensive costume teaches others that similar behavior is acceptable in society and that it is OK to mock certain aspects of people’s culture or history. Once one person sees it and deems it to be appropriate, the endless cycle of cultural appropriation and offensive costumes continues, with a minuscule chance of putting an end to it once and for all. 

If you have made this mistake in the past without realizing it, you still have the chance to rectify your mistake. The first step is simply acknowledging the problem and your role in it and trying to be better, whether that consists of learning more about cultures or how to prevent yourself and others from making the same mistake. 

I understand the joy and excitement that Halloween brings to people of all ages. You can dress up as anything you have ever dreamed of being. You can eat tons of candy without feeling judged. But there is a line that you should not be crossing. This season, let’s celebrate the spirit of Halloween and work to ensure that our costumes do not cross the line. 

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