When in doubt, don’t: cultural appropriation during Halloween
By: Ainsley Feeney
Halloween is the spookiest time of year, with scary movie marathons, candy-induced stomachaches, and creative costumes. However, for many people, Halloween’s biggest fright comes in a much more real form than any ghost story – cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is taking aspects from a culture that is not your own, usually as a form of mockery. This can take the form of wearing culturally important clothing, jewelry, or hairstyles, speaking in an accent or language from another culture, or playing up cultural stereotypes in a disrespectful or insensitive way to people within that culture. Common examples you may have seen are white people wearing protective hairstyles such as cornrows, using words from African American Vernacular English (or, as it is now known, Black Language), and wearing sacred Indigenous headdresses to sporting events.
Kellen Hagans (‘24) and Edyn Hawke (‘24), Student of Color Community Coordinators in the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, noticed an uptick in cultural appropriation around the Halloween season. They hosted the second-annual seminar on cultural appropriation on the Oct. 21st, 2022. The seminar included information on the definition of cultural appropriation, the differences between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, and relating the information to Halloween. Hagans discussed the aspect of power that people who appropriate, specifically white people, get to pick and choose parts of culture they like while ignoring the parts they don’t care to replicate or truly educate themselves on. After the event, I was able to interview Hagans and Hawke on Hagans’s KUPS radio show, “Blended” — airing Friday nights at 6 PM — which highlights mixed artists and artists of color.
This event was especially important for fall because of “the way people will try to use people’s cultures as Halloween costumes,” Hagans remarked. “Edyn and I really just wanted to prevent hurt.” Hawke agreed, saying, “I think people always want to find a way to dress as something that isn’t theirs…so that can be dressing up as another race, or wearing traditional outfits, traditional accessories, and mimicking things that are really important to certain people.”
When asked how students can avoid cultural appropriation, Hagans and Hawke had the same answer they gave during the seminar: when in doubt, don’t. Hagans said, “If you are second-guessing yourself…first, don’t if there’s an unease there. Second, take the time to educate yourself. See where words come from, see where articles of clothing come from, and you’ll be able to see whether or not it’s appropriate for you to wear certain things.” Hawke added, “There are so many other things to dress up as for Halloween…like we mentioned in our presentation, looking into cool parts of your own culture and taking those.”
So, this Halloween, before donning your costume, ask yourself: is this costume taking a part of a culture that isn’t mine? Am I wearing something religiously, spiritually, or traditionally important to people of another culture? Am I making a caricature of a group of people? If the answer is yes, it may be time to dust off the old ghost or vampire costume and rock that instead.