With Halloween rapidly approaching and the costume search for many most likely well underway, it is important to reiterate a message that historically goes largely ignored by a considerable amount of people each year: culture is not a costume.
Inevitably every year following the night of Oct. 31, social media is momentarily flooded with images of a plethora of often tone-deaf and sometimes downright offensive costumes worn by individuals across the country. In preparation for Halloween this year, a moment should be taken to examine where the boundary of an acceptable costume lies, why this type of costume is better never being worn again, and how the costume industry is enabling a genre of costume that should have been thrown out with last year’s candy.
The main element in the equation of determining if your costume is offensive is this; if you feel as though there is a chance that someone will be affected negatively by the costume you choose to wear, it is better to opt for one of the thousands of other options out there. This way, you do your part to prevent the perseverance of costumes that negatively impact the image of other cultures. Although Halloween itself is oriented around adopting a new identity for a night, it is not a free pass to blatantly mock or degrade a person or group unlike yourself and hide behind the argument that it’s just a costume. Oftentimes, the effects of such costumes are much deeper than the person wearing it may assume. What they may have viewed as being humorous or edgy may be perceived by another as offensive or even as enforcing a narrative that such mockery of someone’s culture or heritage is acceptable for others to partake in.
An accepted line of thinking in regards to dressing up as a celebrity, character, or figure of a race different from one’s own is as follows; you can still dress up as someone that isn’t the same race as you but there is no reason or need to change your own skin color to do so. Skin color is not, and should not, be a part of a costume. It is not an accessory and by making it as such disrespects that community, their culture and marginalizes the struggles that the people of that race experienced.
What many may not consider as they are strolling through the isles of Spirit Halloween, Party City or any of the other costume suppliers operating near campus is the historical background behind a selection of costumes that seems to never go away, even considering that they cause turmoil without fail every year. Among these costumes are the “Native American” costumes that regularly and justifiably draw hoards of backlash each year. Criticized for being an objectification and fetishization of Native American women as well as contributing to the erasure and degradation of indigenous people and their culture, brands who continue to sell the costume are experiencing increasing amounts of customer outrage and as a result, are beginning to pull such costumes from the shelves.
Although this is a step forward, unfortunately, this is only the case for a minuscule portion of costume retailers and ignores a larger problem at hand regarding the massive amount of questionable costumes readily available in the marketplace. The fact that these tone-deaf ensembles are continuously sold year after year is a point of contention between those fighting the companies that sell them. In a sense, the companies are enabling the continued practice of cultural mockery as well as a trivialization of the struggles the affected groups have experienced throughout history.
This Halloween, make an effort to put an end to offensive costumes. Hold others accountable for what they wear, dissuade friends from picking questionable attire and open up a dialogue about what kinds of costumes are okay and which should just be ditched for good.