It’s time to construct a culturally conscious Halloween

By Cameron Amano

Photo Courtesy of Kevin Nelson/ The Vista

Photo Courtesy of Kevin Nelson/ The Vista

With the arrival of Halloween, we’ve all been working on picking our costumes: the sexy cat, the scream and of course, the beloved white sheet with eyeholes.

Halloween is meant to be a day of celebration and festivities and a holiday for everyone to have fun.

But what can we make of the more offbeat costumes, like one that adorns blackface, which involves face paint used to make light skin appear black, or one that includes a sombrero and a poncho?

Although usually donned by people without malicious intentions, these displays can be seen as offensive.

Sophomore Charisa Gowen-Takahashi recalls an incident in which race played a role in the portrayal of costumes last Halloween.

“My [non-Japanese] friend dressed up as a geisha and kept cracking racist jokes at Japanese culture the whole night,” Gowen-Takahashi said.

Such demonstrations of stereotyping, sequestering and amplifying facets of cultures are categorized under the definition of “cultural appropriation.”

This is disrespectful as the subordinate groups are usually stereotyped and become caricatures for dominant groups to entertain themselves with.

Often times, members of a dominant group, who do not regularly face racial and cultural oppression, engage in cultural appropriation as they wear, enjoy and “experience” pieces of a subordinate group’s culture for a little while and discard them afterward.

These people have the privilege of going on with their lives without experiencing the injustices that groups they had just culturally appropriated deal with every day.

Junior Jessette Cayton believes that Halloween costumes that can be seen as racist has become a problem in our culture.

“This is a serious issue, especially for people of color. We really need to bring attention to the student body that even though some people think it’s entertaining, making fun of other people’s cultures can be really offensive,” Cayton said.

Senior Corey Salas recounts a racist Halloween experience in which a costume was seen as offensive.

“My friends dressed up as terrorists and wore turbans ,” Salas said. “I thought it was offensive and really messed up, but for fear of social ostracism, I didn’t say anything.”

Peer pressure and social norms are key components in nourishing cultural appropriation.

We should keep in mind the words of philosopher Paulo Freire, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

As the powerful already have the advantageous upper hand in the dominant-subordinate relationship, to not take action against them is to let the powerful continue and to let the powerless suffer.

The only way we can fortify the underdogs, who have endured centuries of racial and cultural abuse, is to support all races in our choices of Halloween costumes.

So how can we help without risking friendships? Try striking up a conversation with those who you feel are wearing blatantly racist costumes that can be taken as offensive and hurtful. By letting others know the way in which they costumes can be interpreted, you are opening up discussion that will hopefully encourage them to rethink their costume choices.

This method indirectly suggests that racist costumes that appropriate cultures are offensive without making it personal.

A different approach includes asking them if they are concerned if the people they are culturally appropriating might see them wearing their stereotyped culture. Often times, those who are clad in offensive outfits may not have previously considered this point of view and might think twice about wearing these seemingly racist costumes.

In order to reinforce the fact that racist costumes should not be accepted in society, the first step is refraining from laughing at the costumes to let those wearing them know that they are offensive. We can point out the potential offensiveness and suggest non-offensive costumes as alternatives. We can help educate them on what cultural appropriation is and why it is wrong to do it.

Enough of the stereotyping. Enough of the cultural appropriation. Enough of the bystander effect.

This Halloween, we need to be mindful of marginalized cultures and help to actively fight in the struggle against cultural appropriation as well as genuinely ruminating over our costume decisions. Remember: it’s a culture, not a costume.