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Culturally appropriative Halloween costumes aren't unique, they're racist

When it comes to dressing up this Halloween, it's important to remain culturally sensitive in your costume choices. – Photo by Haley Phelps / Unsplash

Halloween is here, and unless you've procrastinated, the rush to find the perfect Halloween costume is over. Over the years, Halloween has become so popularized that it's almost competitive — everyone wants to create the most unique costume. Whether it be funny, cute, sexy or practical, Halloween-goers can’t help but want attention for their ensembles. 

Despite the annual race for originality, remaining sensitive to other people’s cultures and lived experiences is something that is always important. Some get lost in the excitement and create costumes that appropriate other cultures and seem to mock others.

Regardless of the intention of someone who appropriates someone's culture through a Halloween costume, it's their responsibility to uphold social and cultural awareness when dressing up as something.

In recent years, there has been heavy pushback on people who dress in insensitive, racist costumes, with many more people now calling out cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes, predominantly on social media. Whether it's everyday individuals who post wildly offensive costumes in 2022 or public figures who were exposed for a costume done years ago when people weren't typically held accountable, people are being called out for donning offensive attire.

Unfortunately, culturally offensive costumes are still seen in national Halloween stores like Spirit Halloween. These brands package and sell costumes that take cultural or traditional clothing and slap on offensive titles to sell it to anyone who wants to buy it. These costume creators take from minority and marginalized groups and, to add icing on the cake, create a hypersexualized version of these already appropriated costumes.

One of the most common examples of offensive Halloween costumes is a sexy version of traditional Indigenous garments. Almost every year, it seems that someone who is not Native is dressed in a headdress with the shortest skirt and cleavage out.

Although dressing sexy is not a problem on Halloween, making a mockery out of a culture’s traditional clothing by sexualizing it is disrespectful to the culture’s history and ancestors.

These costumes, approved, manufactured and sold by big companies, take stereotypes and make a mockery of minority cultures just for others to jokingly dress up in for Halloween.

Social media and society try their hardest to educate others on the damage that these costumes can have on a variety of cultures, but many still do not get it.

Some people even find offensive costumes as egregious as blackface to be appropriate for Halloween. In 2013, not even 10 years ago, "Dancing with the Stars" judge Julianne Hough attended a Halloween party in blackface portraying the character “Crazy Eyes” from the show "Orange Is the New Black." Knowing there would be paparazzi there, Hough shamelessly strutted the streets in a blatantly racist costume.

Hough later wrote a lengthy apology regarding the costume, but many didn’t take well to her apology and claimed that it was obviously offensive from the get-go. 

A similar event happened with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when a photo resurfaced from 2001 showing the politician in brownface at a Halloween party. Once it came out, Trudeau apologized and admitted his wrongdoings regarding the costume.

Social media has most recently set out to prevent these appropriating costumes before they happen. Many posts and articles have been made listing how to identify a culturally appropriative outfit and what to avoid.

Obviously, it's understandable that people want to think outside the box for Halloween, but it's essential to avoid costumes that perpetuate offensive stereotypes of other cultures or mock them.

Cherry-picking specific aspects of a culture and ignoring its importance for the purpose of having a unique costume is belittling to the entire culture. The garments that someone is using for their night of fun are a part of someone’s life and culture. And in the case of Trudeau and Hough and others like them, dressing in something that is a blatant racial caricature is shamelessly bigoted.

Costumes that culturally appropriate usually take from minority cultures that already suffer enough discrimination as it is. If you want to ensure you're being sensitive to other cultures and experiences this Halloween, exercising caution when picking out a costume will make a world of a difference.

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