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Avoiding Cultural Appropriation on Halloween

By Kathryn Taleporos | October 31, 2022

Costumes are an essential part of the Halloween experience. It is the one day of the year where people can pretend to be someone different. However, many choose to imitate cultures that are not their own.

Cultural Appropriation Informational Flyer

Cultural appropriation involves the “inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Throughout the year, cultural appropriation is present, but it is especially prominent during Halloween with most people celebrating the holiday by wearing costumes. However, some costumes cross the line and are offensive to different cultures, contributing to “normalized” instances of cultural appropriation.

Some examples of cultural appropriation during Halloween include dressing up as a different race, like wearing a Native American headdress, Mexican poncho and sombrero, or any other culture-specific accessories. Both of these costumes are offensive to their respective communities, as they have spiritual or formal cultural significance to people, and should not be worn as a costume.

Staff members of the University at Albany Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) said that while many people are becoming more aware of cultural appropriation, it is still prevalent in society today. They noted that even religion-related costumes, like “unholy nun” or other spiritual deities are insensitive to those that practice as it may trivialize their beliefs.

“Another costume many people don’t consider cultural appropriation is dressing as a nun,” one unnamed MRC staff member said. “One of my friends found a few nun costumes she was interested in but changed her mind after she realized how they’re supposed to represent purity in the Catholic faith - it’s wrong to sexualize them.”

Costumes such as these not only harm the community that they are offending, but take away our empathy as whole. As a society, when we appropriate other cultures, we dehumanize them, objectifying them into a caricature.

Halloween Do’s and Don’ts Infographic

Photo Credit: UAlbany MRC Twitter

Marginalized groups are often ridiculed by society when they showcase their culture, until their culture becomes a costume. Then it suddenly becomes cool or comedic to wear something that another person was made fun of for, or was raised respecting.

Instead of appropriating someone else’s culture, there are many other options for costumes this Halloween. Characters from popular TV shows or movies are always a great option. There are also the classics such as being a black cat or a ghost.

If you are doubting if your costume would be considered cultural appropriation, then it probably is. If your costume depicts a culture that is not your own, then it is appropriation.

Halloween is a fun holiday that allows us all to pretend to be someone or something we are not for a day. This can be empowering, allowing us to escape the daily realities of our own lives and pretend to be someone else. But, avoid costume ideas that have the potential to offend or trivialize another person, indirectly or not.


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