Halloween is supposed to be a night to let loose and live as someone else. Whether it be a matching couples costume, your favorite character in a television series you’re obsessing over or an idol you want to embody, it’s the one night out of the year to play dress up. Who doesn’t like that?
However, while freedom of expression is important and the costume options that allow you to do that may seem endless, the reality is you have to be careful choosing your costume. You have to be culturally sensitive.
One of the biggest issues when it comes to Halloween costumes is how people wear them. I believe if you dress up as an African American celebrity or someone well known, even if you idolize them, the number one thing you should not do is paint your face black.
A lot of people don’t seem to understand why this is so offensive, but if they brushed up on their history, they might see why blackface is insulting.
It’s a racist show business practice dating back as early as the 1830s where white performers wore dark makeup, creating a popular theatrical form, but it also created stereotypes that stick with us today.
These shows were called Minstrel shows and white performers used burnt cork and black greasepaint to darken their skin to a black person.
This led to the creation of characters like “Daddy Jim Crow” where Thomas Dartmouth painted his face black and performed a song and dance called Jump Jim Crow. It was supposedly about a black disabled man named Jim Cuff who Dartmouth turned into a caricature of a shabbily dressed African American man.
While this started from fascination with music, songs, dances and the performance styles white people believed black people used, it stemmed from stereotypes that are used against black people today. African American people were depicted as lazy, lying and buffoonish.
While blackface is a disputed issue, other races and cultures also have to deal with similar misinterpretations.
Although there are many costumes that are arguably inappropriate, there are a couple that stand out to me.
The number one issue is the depiction of a Native Americans. People assume all Native Americans wear two braids with leather skirts and have teepees with tomahawks, and they all use cradleboards or carry their children on their backs.
It becomes wildly offensive to Native Americans when you mesh their cultures together.
Another example is one of a gypsy, which in reality is an offensive term and is considered to be a racial slur used against Romani people. Romani people have a history of persecution in Europe and the word gypsy was used to stigmatize and discriminate against the culture.
While some may read this and believe I’m being too sensitive, people with different backgrounds also feel the same.
Teen Vogue did a feature story over six women who believe their culture is not a costume.
One thing most people don’t take into consideration when it comes to Halloween costumes is the pain that stems from them.
“One of the things about Hawaiian culture not a lot of people know is that historically it was illegal to practice anything that had to do with Native Hawaiian culture,” Cashman Aiu, a 21 year-old Native Hawaiian said in Teen Vogue’s feature.
In the 1900s, Hawaii became a white colony and Native Hawaiians were banned from speaking their native language and practicing their culture. The hula, for example, an ancient form of dance with a deep spiritual meaning, was turned into a form of exotic dancing for tourists entertainment.
Aiu said her grandmother, who is now 70, is just now getting to practice parts of her culture that were banned when she was a child.
“[My grandmother] is finally learning how to dance hula and she’s been creating her hula skirt and her lei for weeks now and this is nothing like what it looks like,” Aiu said about the costume that stood next to her that represented a hula dancer.
One thing to consider when it comes to people who turn a blind eye to cultural appropriation is that those being misrepresented, or represented in a negative light, are not showing senseless outrage. They are truly hurt and offended by westernized costumes because people aren’t paying attention to culture and what the true meaning is behind each costume.
It’s important to remember that just because something doesn’t offend you doesn’t mean that it’s not offensive to a large number of other people.