A Culture - Not a Costume
By: Danna Beltran
This is a poster by Ohio University and the University of Denver, used by several colleges to teach about cultural appropriation.
Halloween is right around the corner; guess what that means? Someone will literally and metaphorically step out with an insensitive or straight up racist costume. Despite the long-running debate about racism and culture appropriation, people continue to wear such costumes.
The shelves of most costume stores still continue to stock up on the stereotypical costumes of most races and cultures. Some people will even draken their skin to pose as a black or brown person, despite knowing the degrading and dehumanizing history of blackface. Best said by Glory Ames, co-president of the American Indian Student Association at MSUM, “They blatantly take certain aspects of our culture, race, religion, and use it for their advantage and ignore the people living it.”
Over the past few years, online campaigns such as #notyourcostume and #mycultureisnotyourcostume, have helped spread awareness. Some colleges even go further as to run campaigns on cultural sensitivities during Halloween with ways to avoid racist tropes and cultural appropriation. But this is beyond simply calling out behavior, as some cultural experts advise, education and empathy are in order. As explained by Jered Pigeon, director of diversity and inclusion at Ame’s school, “Good people sometimes make bad decisions. What we try to do is turn those bad decisions around. We’re not shaming, we’re guiding.” Highlighting the importance of taking these opportunities to start conversations, encouraging students to do their research on topics they might not fully understand.
People need to consider how the costumes may be perceived by the community whose culture is being represented. As Moody-Ramirez, director of American studies at Baylor University suggests, “Ask yourself the question, does the culture you’re imitating have a history of oppression? Are you benefiting from borrowing from the culture? Are you able to remove something when you get tired of it and return to a privileged culture when others can’t?” This is not about prohibiting others from participating in different cultures, it is about doing it with the respect and knowledge that is needed to not offend anyone. After all America would not be America without combining cultures.
What irritates most is the responsibility of explaining the significance of any cultural expression or artifact repeatedly falling on the shoulders of the offended party, which can be burdening. But Granados, who is majoring in political science and Spanish, says it best: “I don’t want to be the one always educating people, but if we don’t, we can’t get mad.” The main reason why this happens so often is ignorance, so this Halloween, make an effort to inform yourself and others on this delicate subject.