October 30. 2017
By: Karen Silver
With Halloween approaching, people are getting dressed up as all sorts of things from zombies to movie characters, and anything in between. Every year it seems that there is at least one big story of inappropriate Halloween costumes. I am not referring to people wearing ultra-sexy or revealing costumes. If that is what someone desires to wear in Newfoundland at the end of October, more power to them. It takes real superhero to stand outside on George Street in three-degree weather without multiple layers. I have nothing but respect for those who can successfully pull that one off and actually enjoy themselves.
No, I am talking of course about pushing racial boundaries and the cultural misappropriation of Halloween costumes. For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, cultural misappropriation is when someone who is not a member of a particular culture, race, or ethnic identity takes an element of that culture, race, or ethnic identity and uses it in a novel, satirical, or just disrespectful or offensive way.
Costumes that cross the cultural misappropriation lines include dressing in black/brown face, dressing in authentic (or more importantly) unauthentic traditional attire of another culture, dressing as a sacred or religious idol or symbol, and costumes that make a farce out of an entire people to name a few.
Some costumes that push the offensive envelope could easily work without crossing racial lines. For instance, if you want to dress as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and you are white, do it. But do it without changing your skin color. Do not try to accompany your costume with a poorly executed accent, or other stereotypical behavior in order to convey your message. Realistically, if people do not understand your costume without you being racist, it is probably not a good costume idea anyway.
Some people decide to dress as a particular character instead of dressing as a cultural identity, but this can still be tricky. Some children and adults alike might want to dress as Pocahontas, Moana, or one of Disney’s other questionable adaptations of a minority or marginalized group. We must first ask ourselves, ‘How does this film portray the people it is supposed to represent?’ and ‘How does my costume represent these persons and their cultural identity?’
Intention is important, but costumes can still offend individuals or groups even if that was not the intent behind them. What offends one individual might not offend another even if they belong to the same cultural group. If you are unable to definitively answer those questions mentioned above, then there is a good chance that you do not know enough about that particular culture to decide if your costume is appropriate or not.
If you are worried that your costume will offend someone, it probably will. Obviously not all offenses are warranted or justified, but do you really want to be the person who unintentionally stirs the racism pot? If you are the type of person who likes to stir the racism pot I have some bad news for you: You are a racist.
In conclusion; be what you want to be for Halloween, just try your hardest not to be an asshole.