Cultural appropriation or appreciation?

Halloween Costumes / Yandy

Now that reading week is over, Halloween weekend is fast approaching. The one thing on most people’s mind this time of year is: ‘what am I going to dress up as?’

When we were kids it was easy. You could be a pumpkin three years in a row — or a cat, alien, witch or robot and no one would really care since you were little and cute.

Possibly now that you’re getting older it becomes a bit difficult picking a costumer. Costumes become a fully thought out process and it’s socially expected that you don’t repeat from last year’s look, or even year’s prior.

So when you’re trying to find your perfect costume this year, be sure it’s something really awesome but remember that Halloween has some dos and don’ts when it comes to dressing up. Cultural appropriation — which can be defined as using elements, ideas and images of one culture by members of another culture — has been a really big problem around Halloween the past few years and as much as we try to bring it to the spotlight and try to improve awareness, it never seems to change.

Sure, there are ways that you can respect a certain culture without being offensive but the line between appreciation and appropriation is a very thin and difficult to distinguished. There’s a time and place for appreciation and Halloween is not that time.

If you were to walk into a costume shop today the walls would be lined and racks would be packed with hundreds of options for you to choose from. Unfortunately, quite a few of them are actually offensive.

Pushing aside the fact that this year tons of people will be dressing up as someone from Suicide Squad (a.k.a. Harley Quinn) or the characters from Stranger Things, some of the most common costumes that you’re bound to see every year are some of the most problematic.

But at least the companies who create these costumes are consistent and make both mens and ladies versions. You and your significant other can now both dress up as Native Americans and wear offensive headdresses when going out for Halloween. How about “Egyptian Goddess” and “Dark Pharaoh”?

I think the real problem is that a lot of people don’t see an issue with offensive costumes. To them, dressing up in a poncho with a little stick-on mustache and a sombrero is funny. The same way that wrapping a bedsheet around your body, putting on some golden jewelry and calling yourself a Greek Goddess is just supposed to be pretty. People don’t understand what can be offensive about the costumes since they’re just ‘costumes’.

Halloween is supposed to be a day for dress-up and pretend to be someone else. However, in doing so, you can still be respectful of other cultures and stay away from things that might be a little bit controversial.

A lot of the time when you think about culturally appropriated costumes you tend to think mostly about the adult costumes because children’s costumes are supposed to be cute and sweet and they could never be offensive, right?

Sadly, it seems almost as if the offensiveness is hidden in them. Those same Egyptian, Greek, Spanish, Native and many other culturally related costumes all still exist — just in mini versions.

Recently, Disney began selling an outfit on their website related to their new movie Moana coming out in late November. Based around a young native Hawaiian girl, the movie also features a Polynesian demigod named Maui. With his big muscles and tattoo covered body, clearly Disney thought Maui’s look would be a great costume for young boys. Little did they know people would be outraged by the dark, tanned-skin bodysuit that they released. Since then the costume has been taken down from their store and a lot of backlash has surfaced.

The use of blackface and trying to take on the appearance of another race is also a really big problem around Halloween and is another form of cultural appropriation.

Back in 2014, Brock University came under fire when the winners of Isaac’s Halloween costume contest were all dressed up and ready to represent the Jamaican bobsled team — complete with black face and body paint.

It goes to show that while you might think something is funny, pretty or a great idea, it may just be super offensive in the process and not that funny or great to someone else.

So before you go running into the local generic overpriced costume store to find your outfit for this year’s festivities, make sure you have fun but be wary of what may cross that thin line.

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