Hedreich Nichols

Cultural Appropriation and Halloween

Because it’s time to don costumes and have some fun, I thought it would be a good time to send this friendly public service reminder: culture ≠ costume.

Borrowing the sari, the skull or the sombrero is not the same as wearing a secret service agent suit, a superhero cape or a celebrity gown. Those are examples of cultural appropriation. 

Having a cultural day at school in which students wear culturally inspired clothing in addition to presenting an oral essay and expressing understanding and appreciation for diverse cultures can also be a good thing. That’s cultural appreciation. 

Using Halloween as a day to don the clothing of Hollywood stereotypes is something that we have always done. However, we are only beginning to understand that some of the items we’ve worn have deep historical meaning and context. Headdresses, “Hula girl” outfits and turbans, for example, all have meanings that most of us know nothing about. Wearing those items in a frivolous way shows a lack of respect, even when we don’t mean it.

Think of it like this: wearing a Priest’s cassock or going Trick or Treat with a cross tied to your back would turn heads, and not in a good way. That’s how it should be when we see meaningful cultural symbols being used for costumes.

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