Halloween has come. The time for trick or treating, dressing up, and unfortunately, the time for cultural appropriation as well.
But, what is cultural appropriation? It is the adoption of an aspect of someone’s culture without taking into account the intrinsic meaning that it conveys. This aspect could be a symbol, artifact, image, ritual, style and inevitably, the element that cannot missed out in Halloween: costumes. So better said, cultural appropriation is actually quite the opposite of its literal wording. It is the misappropriation of a culture.
Say that someone, without an initial bad intention decides to dress up as a Mexican. He/she puts on a fake mustache, a big “sombrero”, and a “mariachi” suit. Although the person wearing the costume may not realize it, by deciding to dress up this way as a representation of Mexicans, she/he is putting all Mexicans under one single label, and stereotyping them under an aspect that is in fact part of their culture, but it’s not the whole picture. And that is not the true problem with this. The issue is that when this costume is adopted, it is a form a colonialism. Why? Because these Mariachi elements are used outside of their original context. Meaning, they are not reflected as the cultural heritage that they represent for their people.
Another example, is when people decide to dress up a members of indigenous communities. The traditional clothes of indigenous people carries immense cultural significance for them. Is it only worn in special occasions and ceremonies. So when people, with or without knowing buy replicas of these clothes, they are disregarding their culture, taking its historical significance away, and ignoring all the traumas and challenges that they have faced to still be able to wear their clothes with pride. Actually, I even dare say that they are defying their identity. Hence, their culture is exploited based on wrong depictions of who they are.
This brings the following question: Is it okay then, for people who without knowing or meaning to, misinterpret a culture in Halloween? I believe it is shameful that in the 21st century we still associate Halloween with disrespecting a culture as a normal situation. It is not okay for people to insult other’s cultures with their costumes. It is not okay for colonialism to be justified on the basis of ignorance. It is not okay for cultural appropriation to not be taken seriously, because the truth is, that whether we realize it or not, when we allow others to dress up as an aspect, person or element from another culture knowing that it is offensive, when we laugh about our friends’ costumes because we find it funny how they interpret Mexicans, Indigenous people, refugees, African American, and many other minorities and ethnicities, we are hoping on the Bandwagon fallacy, and helping to the perpetuation of this cultural contempt.
In this case, respect is not something that is earned, but demanded for every culture in our world. So, my invitation today is: Why don’t instead of making fun of other’s cultures and focusing on their differences, we try to celebrate their diversity and uniqueness? Why don’t we try to regard their voices, and value their history? I’m not saying not to dress up, go trick or treating or have fun in Halloween. I’m saying that there are many ideas for uncommon and amusing Halloween costumes, and one that dishonors a culture’s identity should not be your choice. We all are people. We all belong to a culture. We all have an identity. We are not costumes.