October is my favorite month and favorite time of year. My birthday is in October, I love autumn colors and seeing the bright colors of summer turn into mellow hues of orange and yellow, corn mazes are my favorite things, carving pumpkins are so much fun. I could go on and on with the things I love about October but one of my favorite things is Halloween. I love scary and Halloween themed movies, the corny jokes, dressing up, and seeing all the costumed kids trick or treating.

However, there is one thing that I dread about Halloween and that is costumes that ooze cultural appropriation and the ignorance that goes with it. **Reminder: I am white and as a part of the dominant group, I’ll never be able to say what’s okay or what’s cultural appropriation. Most of the explaining of the concept comes from others who are more educated and experienced in this topic. This post is more of explaining what cultural appropriation is and to give more costume ideas that would be much better.

One definition of cultural appropriation comes the article “What is Cultural Appropriation and Why is it Wrong?”:

Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.

– Susan Scafidi

That same article by Nadra Kareem Nittle highlights the fact that cultural appropriation is almost always dominant/privileged members of society taking or ‘borrowing’ aspects from minority groups. Examples include Miley Cyrus and her many attempts of appearing black (twerking, etc), wearing bindis or Native American headdresses with complete disregard to what they are or the symbology/importance behind them, white artists like Elvis or Madonna heavily stealing or borrowing from black or Latino artists and getting rich/famous from it. Halloween costumes are such an easy way for one to participate in cultural appropriation.

There is one article titled “5 things white people need to learn about cultural appropriation”, which highlights more examples of the concept and also explains a little more about the differences between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. Another article titled “The difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation” spends more time defining that line between exchange and appropriation. (As usual, avoid comments.) There is a way to be respectful and learn about another culture that isn’t cultural appropriation. Dressing up in blackface is definitely not cultural exchange or respect in any way.

There are so many amazing costume ideas (particularly for white people) that aren’t culturally appropriate and make you look cool rather than like an ignorant jackass who doesn’t respect others (which is how I see people who wear costumes that are cultural appropriation). These ideas include:

  • Almost all Harry Potter characters
  • Batman
  • Robin
  • The Hulk
  • Iron Man
  • Captain America
  • Wonder Woman
  • Snow White
  • Cinderella
  • The Seven Dwarfs
  • So many of the Lord of the Rings characters
  • A crayon
  • Any Doctor Who incarnation
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Wild Things from Where the Wild Things Are
  • Doctor Horrible from Doctor Horrible’s Sing A Long Blog
  • Captain Hammer from above
  • A Zombie
  • Facebook (literally just write book on your face… As seen on The Office)
  • A robot
  • A squirrel
  • A cat
  • A dog
  • Spiderman
  • An M&M
  • A vampire

Literally there are so many costumes (and so many easy ones??) that crossing that line over to cultural appropriation is not only ignorant but also not very creative. Costume/Halloween stores have so much that you could work with that doesn’t involve using someone else’s culture as a caricature.

So during the upcoming Halloween celebrations, remember to not be a jackass and don’t dress in a way that’s culturally appropriate.

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