Don't Mess Up When You Dress Up: Cultural Appropriation and Costumes
Halloween is a notorious time for offensive outfits. If you're still not sure what your costume is going to be this year, make sure you don't go the culturally appropriative route. Dressing up as "another culture," is racist, and an act of privilege. Not only does it lead to offensive, inaccurate, and stereotypical portrayals of other people's culture (Do you think Día de los Muertos is just "Mexican Halloween"? Well it's not, so put away your facepaint), but is also an act of appropriation in which someone who does not experience that oppression is able to "play," temporarily, an "exotic" other, without experience any of the daily discriminations faced by other cultures. Like dressing up as a "sexy squaw" while being completely unaware of the horrific rates of sexual violence Native women face. (Read more about the harmful effects of sexualizing Native women by Adrienne at Native Appropriations).
Fortunately, thanks to some college students behind Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS), an Ohio University organization, cultural appropriation and costumes is getting some more attention. Their series of posters boldly challenge racist costume ideas and read, "We're a culture, not a costume. This is not who I am and it is not okay." Already they've gotten coverage from ABC News the The Globe and Mail, which hopefully means their message is getting through to more folks. Here are some more posters from the campaign, click each image for a larger version:
Just in case any of you are out there wondering, "But no one actually does this, right?" Just last month, Sociological Images curated some images from recent racist parties/costumes at college campuses. Or you know, click through some of the links above to see negative comments on Tumblr (plenty of people are willing to defend their choices to "dress up") or read the comments beneath coverage of the STARS posters (smoke might come out your ears, just a warning). Halloween costumes should be scary-frightening, not scary racist. It's important not just to pat yourself on the back for avoiding appropriation, but to reach out to others to follow suit (...literally!). Give "How to inform a friend their Halloween costume is racist," posted on The Sexist last year, another read-through, and don't forget to pass along the excellent STARS posters! Links in this post:
- Día De Los Muertos Is Not Your Halloween [Nuestra Hermana]
- For all people who are considering painting their face as Día de los Muertos skulls on Halloween... [April's Eye]
- Sexy Squaw Costume for Columbus Day [TBD]
- Nudie Neon Indians and the Sexualization of Native Women [Native Appropriations]
- Go Ahead and Continue Sexualizing American Indian and First Nations Women... [Oki, Pierogi!]
- STARS Posters
- Race-Themed Events at Colleges [Sociological Images]
- How to inform a friend their Halloween costume is racist [The Sexist]
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