Halloween is my favorite time of year. It excites me more than Christmas, an epic birthday celebration and celebrating my Irishness on St. Patrick’s Day combined. The pumpkins are out, horror movies are on every channel and the air is as crisp as the leaves on the ground. But there is something we need to talk about: costumes.
In the past few years, fraternities across the nation have been reprimanded for throwing parties with themes like: “Bloods and Crips” at Dartmouth, “Conquista-bros and Nava-hos” at Harvard and “Asia Prime” at Duke University. While wordplay is fun, racism is not. Parties like these are not some relic of a past that has since been corrected. The following are two examples from this month alone.
In early October, footage surfaced from a UCLA Kanye West-themed party where attendees “ … came dressed in baggy clothes and gold chains and padded their pants to caricature large buttocks,” the Daily Bruin reported.
Also, Alabama 5th grade teacher Heath Morrows dressed as Kanye in full blackface for an early Halloween Party. His wife then posted the photo on Facebook, claiming “Haha some people thought Heath was really a black man.” Morrows is a grown, educated man who teaches children.
Let that one sink in for a moment.
It’s what sociologists call cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the use of certain parts of one culture by a different culture. The problem occurs, typically, when the dominant culture does this at the cost of a minority group. In the United States, the overwhelming majority is white. I am addressing us specifically as we are the culprit.
These are cultures, not costumes.
We can not cherry pick what we like from another’s heritage and call it a new trend. As the world grows in culture and diversity, we should all take note and remember there is a difference between appreciation and appropriation.
A concept that was reinforced on a recent trip to a local Spirit Halloween store. Normally, I ecstatically push every button on the screaming exorcist displays or stock up on cheap eyelashes to last me the rest of the year, but this time was different. As I browsed the wall of wigs, I came to a realization. Every single model on the packages was white. After some digging, there were only three wig packages with minorities on the front. All of which were variations of dreadlocks and one had a doppelganger resemblance to Lil Wayne labeled “Gangsta wig.” This was just the beginning.
A large display on the side wall housed an everything-you-could-need kit for a sugar skull costume, including costumes labeled “Señorita Death” and her male counterpart “Señor Death.” I want to say this here and now: Día de los Muertos is NOT “Mexican Halloween.” It is traditionally an opportunity for families to show reverence and remembrance to their ancestors past.
Around the corner was a shelf was full of props for a grown up version of cowboys and Indians, complete with headdresses. The costumes were named “Indian Warrior” and “Queen of the Tribe,” all of which heavily misrepresent Native American culture.
Look, I’m not trying to be an officer of the PC Police. And I’m not out to ruin Halloween. It is just the level of nonchalance in appropriating other people’s culture that is so alarming. We’ve allowed a holiday to perpetuate stereotypes. Ignorance is a factor. Perhaps we should be more thoughtful this year.