The Scariest Halloween Trick of All: Cultural Appropriation

Three weeks ago, I sat in a local bar with my boyfriend and some of his acquaintances through a past summer internship. Football and baseball glowed from half a dozen TV’s above us. The conversation turned towards the Washington Redskins.

As I listened to their conversation while sipping a bottle of Angry Orchard, it was clear that this group of white men in their early twenties knew the term “redskins” was racist – but it didn’t directly affect them so they didn’t care. One of them tried to defend the Florida State Seminoles, stating that the chief of the Seminole tribe actually encouraged the use of their name for the university mascot. (This is complicated but not true.)

Cultural appropriation, the adoption or theft of icons and aesthetic standards from a minority culture, is everywhere. White privilege helps many white people to turn a blind eye. But it is hard to ignore when you realize that cultural appropriation has found its place in sports, music and entertainment, even your own Halloween costumes.

In 2011, Ohio University began the poster campaign, “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume.” The impact of the images affected not only the Ohio University student population, but the web-based communities when the campaign hit the internet.

blackface poster          geisha poster         na poster

It is hard for me to encounter those who can look at these posters and still not understand the problem. If you are not part of a culture, you do not have the right to take ownership of something that is important or even sacred to that group. You are trivializing their identities and existence. Don’t let someone tell you it’s a “tribute” to a group. It’s racist. 

The overall lesson of cultural appropriation is also very straightforward: do not take what is not yours. Didn’t we learn this rule in pre-school?

What do you think?

Have you ever had a personal experience where you’ve witnessed cultural appropriation of your or someone else’s culture?

I work at a clothing store that had native american costumes for young girls. What racost costumes have you seen this Halloween season? 


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