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JUAN: You can be anything on Halloween, so why be insensitive?

Opinions Column: Come With Lee


Halloween is quickly approaching, and plenty of us look forward to “Halloweekend.” Even though we are not in elementary school going house-to-house asking for candy, we still find excitement in coming up with a cute costume. Since most college students find Halloween to be a weekend-long event, a multitude of costumes are needed. While we will see plenty of "sexy" versions of different characters and costumes, such as Pennywise or a schoolgirl uniform, there will always be the costumes that ends up appropriating a culture. This is not the way to go. There are plenty of available costumes, so a costume that involves cultural appropriation is completely unnecessary.

Cultural appropriation is when a person takes aspects of a culture that is not their own and uses them without understanding the history or context of it. This is a very basic definition, but there are other aspects to this. A key aspect of cultural appropriation is that it involves a power dynamic. This power dynamic refers to someone of a "dominant" culture adopting parts of another culture that has been oppressed. These dominant cultures have privilege that enables them to make other cultures into costumes. Of course, this is not the case for every single person that is part of a dominant culture, but there have been incidents exemplifying this. If a culture is going to be ridiculed for its customs or appearance, then others definitely should not be using it as inspiration for their next Halloween costume.

Native American apparel is often appropriated. People come decked out in their traditional dress, headdresses and feathers. Stephanie Land, a writer for The Washington Post, as well as a dedicated parent, explains to her daughter why she should not be dressing like her favorite American Girl doll, Kaya, who is Native American. She did not fully understand the reasoning behind her mother telling her not to dress up as Kaya until she watched an assembly at her school with Native American performers. These performers showcased their traditional dress and explained the process needed to create them. This was the moment that Land’s daughter realized the importance of not adopting another person’s culture, as she saw that their outfits and traditions were special and sacred to their cultures and not meant for Halloween. There is a tragic history that precedes Native Americans, and most people know the details of the brutal murders of many tribes. We should not wear pieces of their cultural dress as fashion for a holiday knowing the horrific actions that have happened to these people. We can always appreciate their culture, but we do not have to make a fashion out of it.

Cultural appropriation is not limited to just race. It can involve someone’s sexual orientation, abilities or physical and mental states. It is easy to forget that race is not the only thing people identify with, so costumes that glamorize eating disorders or mock gender identities are definitely inappropriate. These are real-life struggles that people constantly go through, so they should not be hanging in your closet, ready for you to wear on a Friday night. Many people that identify with these groups have faced ridicule in their everyday lives, so wearing it on a holiday that is meant to be scary and playful makes light of the situation.

There are so many other things that you can be for Halloween. Do you want to be a sexy Minion? A little strange, but go ahead! Are you doing a group costume where everyone dresses up as the cast of “Friends"? I love that idea! There are great costumes that we can choose from to fill up every single day of "Halloweekend" and some that you can even make on your own. We do not have to choose the costumes that mock or ridicule cultures and groups that we do not identify with. Many of these groups have already dealt with a great deal of oppression, so turning their culture into a work of fashion during this Halloween, or any day for that matter, is just an inappropriate thing to do. We are trying to move towards a more inclusive and appreciative society, and wearing costumes that involve cultural appropriation is moving us in the wrong direction. We can all have a great time with our friends as cats, vampires or our favorite character on television. Let us make this Halloween a spooky, fun and culturally appropriate one.

Leona Juan is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. Her column, “Come with Lee” runs on alternate Thursdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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