Costume or Cultural Appropriation – By Amaris Holguin
The leaves are falling, the temperature is dropping, and Halloween is just around the corner. Many would argue that Halloween is the day of the year where you can be whoever, or whatever you want. However, it’s important to know the distinction between what is funny and what is cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is defined as “the act of taking intellectual and cultural expressions from a culture that is not your own, without showing that you understand or respect the culture.” This can be as simple as wearing a Dashiki without knowledge or respect to West African culture, and as serious as wearing a fake Native American headdress without any regard of its sacredness. It generally incorporates a history of prejudice and discrimination by perpetuating long-standing stereotypes.
On the other hand, cultural appreciation, understanding the significance of a particular practice/object/tradition and not undermining or destroying its significance or value, and cultural exchange are important aspects of living in a diverse world. For instance, at an Indian wedding someone may be asked to wear a Sari, a traditional female garment. This would be considered cultural appreciation. They are asked to participate in the culture by wearing traditional attire and showing respect for that culture.
If you are second-guessing that your costume may be cultural appropriation consider these questions:
Does my costume…
- Represent a culture that is not my own?
- Include the words “traditional,” “ethnic,” “cultural,” or “tribal?”
- Perpetuate stereotypes, or historical and cultural inaccuracies?
If you said yes to any of the questions above or are still unsure, you may want to go with a different costume.
For more information on cultural appropriation, check out the following resources:
“While the University of St. Thomas doesn’t have an official policy about Halloween costumes, the above information is offered to help students make informed choices. Our convictions as a University call on us to respect the dignity of all human persons and we strive to create a community that is welcoming to all. Educating students about how their actions could be perceived by others is part of how we create that community.”