By Rachel Yelverton
Halloween is always a crowd-favorite holiday; among the candy corn, the Zombie Crawl and a new season of American Horror Story, what’s not to love?
Personally, I’ve been stockpiling costume ideas for months. We all want to have that costume: the one that’s talked about for countless future Halloweens, the one that went above and beyond in its originality, the one with the perfect combination of wit and style. Achieving this look, however, as we all discover after about 15 minutes on Pinterest, is easier said than done.
So now what? You drive your discouraged self down to Party City for one of those bag costumes your mom never let you buy because it looked like a real-life Bratz doll.
But like all things fast and easy in life, there’s a catch. Your Hail Mary attempt to pull together a funny-yet-cute costume is someone else’s culture and lifestyle. Cultural appropriation has been a huge topic in the news recently, and up until about three months ago I’m willing to bet most of you had never even heard the term.
For those of you who are still unsure, cultural appropriation happens when someone adopts aspects of a culture that isn’t their own. That girl who wore a bindi to Coachella? She doesn’t really care about the marital ritual behind it. Your friend who wants to start charging for henna tattoos? They couldn’t tell you the religious significance surrounding each design. The double standard becomes apparent when your harmless Bob Marley costume features the same dreadlocks that African-Americans are constantly chastised for as dirty and unprofessional, despite an entire history of meaning.
It’s no secret that the United States has a pretty rich history of patchworking bits of other cultures together to create a perfectly comfy American quilt. As if the past 240 years weren’t enough, we now don “sexy Indian,” “exotic geisha” and “naughty sugar skull” costumes that even further debase heritages to worn-out stereotypes.
Forget the historical accuracy of these costumes (trust me, Princess Jasmine wouldn’t have worn a crop top), whether you want to admit it or not, wearing a sombrero, mustache and running around with a bag of tortillas is offensive.
I know there are some of you rolling your eyes right now thinking this is a stretch. It’s not racist; it’s just a joke, right? C’mon, people, we need to stop perpetuating this crap. All of these costumes exaggerate and mock cultural aspects that Western society has shunned and rejected for centuries. It can be difficult to understand where the border between parody and insult lies, but it’s not up to you to decide what is and what is not offensive to another person.
A cheap laugh isn’t worth prolonging harmful stereotypes. If you’re wondering if your costume is appropriating, ask yourself this: Is this my culture? If yes, pass “Go” and collect $200. If no, is the culture that it does belong to looked down upon for practicing it? If yes, you’re appropriating. And remember, if you can’t be funny without putting someone else down, then you just aren’t funny.