As we celebrate Halloween, many people will be picking out costumes for themselves or for their children, and the issue of cultural appropriation becomes relevant.
What is cultural appropriation?
Cultural appropriation refers to the inappropriate adoption of the practices, customs or aesthetics of one's social or ethnic group, by members of another. However, it's important to know that this is different from showing appreciation of a culture, which lies in knowledge and recognition.
Why is cultural appropriation offensive?
The issue of cultural appropriation tends to become more prominent around Halloween as stereotypical costumes are often worn with ignorance and neglect the culture from which the costume comes from.
Traditional costumes are also typically becoming fetishized rather than respected or understood. This can be offensive to a wide range of people, but most importantly to those who are closely linked or come from the culture being taken out of context.
Furthermore, reducing an entire group to a "costume" is insensitive to the history and struggles, and often shows the privilege the wearer has in being able to pick the most flattering parts of a culture while neglecting the rest.
How to distinguish between cultural appropriation and appreciation
Several things need to be considered when choosing a Halloween costume including:
The context of the show/film
Make sure to do your research first on whether the film depicts a specific culture/person or perpetuates ignorant stereotypes.
The context of actors portrayed in the show/film
Consider socio-political contexts around when the film was made, the era it's depicting, and how it's aged within modern-day culture.
Public opinion around the show/film
One of the most important things to you can do when examining the boundaries around a costume is to see how the minorities respond and respect the general consensus. If unsure, it's usually best to avoid it and explore other options.
How you're representing a character
If you're changing your skin colour, hair, makeup, or even the way you speak to adopt a specific accent, then you might be appropriating rather than appreciating a minority culture.
Your own context and the context of your own culture
It's important to know about the wider context of a costume before committing. Learn how people from your culture have interacted with the minority group and if there's any history of oppression or power. A reflection on power dynamics can determine why your costume might be offensive.