Halloween comes once a year and each time, I hold my breath to see what costumes will come out of the woodworks. The holiday is often accompanied by dressing up as someone you may not otherwise identify with, and that can be the fun of it all! But oftentimes, we see some pretty offensive costumes; taking on a culture that isn't one's own and dumbing it down to highlight the most stereotypical features as possible.
Cultural appropriation is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as, "The act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture." That's it--plain and simple. For me, Halloween can call for tolerating more cultural appropriation than usual as it allows for so many offensive costumes that are simply defended as harmless and "just for fun."
As a Mexican-American woman, I can only speak from my point of view. For example, I will never know what it feels like to be someone of Native American heritage and see a costume using feathers and fringe to portray my family and I. But, I do know that it makes me uncomfortable and that we can do so much better.
When I see costumes of the "drunken Mexican," I am angered. Especially after what has been said in the past few months of my people--I don’t want to see anyone making a joke of us. But then, when I see costumes depicting Dia De Los Muertos skulls, I don’t feel the same anger. I appreciate the beauty that is in the costume and I don’t really think twice about whether or not the people wearing the makeup actually understand what the day is about. Is that my fault or theirs? I’m still unsure. The blurred line between what is and isn't offensive is what makes the conversation about cultural appropriation sometimes difficult for me, since it is not always blatant. But those costumes that we turn a blind eye to and ignore although they are obviously offensive, those are the ones that further perpetuate erasure of the unique aspects of my culture and many others.
The costumes that poke "fun" at typically marginalized groups are disrespectful and straight up racist--they are a direct attack on our identity. It’s 2017 and there really is no excuse to take on an identity that doesn’t belong to you.
If you have to ask, "Do you think this is offensive?" maybe you don't need to be wearing it out. Think about how others may feel about you dressing up as their everyday culture for your own entertainment. Take an extra minute and re-think your costume. There are so many things you could be on Halloween, and offensive doesn’t need to be on the list.
Photo by: Teen Vogue