One of our favourite holidays is coming up soon, Halloween! You might have been really organised and got together your outfit already. Or maybe you’re more of a last-minute ghost in a sheet kind of person. Whatever the case, hopefully your outfit won’t be offensive to anyone. Have you ever considered Halloween and cultural appropriation?
Now this subject is a lot bigger in the US than in the UK. To be honest I was ignorant to what “cultural appropriation” was until I did my study abroad in the US. I think this is because it is really not discussed in the UK. And, I think that conversations on the subject should be encouraged more in the UK, especially with regards to clothing on Halloween and at festivals.
What is cultural appropriation?
Cultural appropriation is a term used when it appears a “dominating culture” uses an aspect of another culture and passes it off as their own. The concept comes hand in hand with “white supremacy” so you need to be clued up on that idea too. Cultural appropriation is when one culture is undermined by being worn as a costume. Or a costume undermines the suffering of another culture.
What does this mean for Halloween? This is when cultural appropriation manifests as an outfit or costume. For example, when a nationality is used in the title of the costume e.g. “a Native American” or “a Mexican.” Here’s a clear example: dressing as a “Native American” is regarded as cultural appropriation. One reason for this is because a Native head dress is seen as a respected and important aspect of Native American life and not a costume.
This Halloween before you dress up just ask yourself a few questions before buying your outfit.
- Am I a member of this cultural community?
- Am I wearing this to spread awareness and or empower the culture?
- Have I researched the significance of this item to a specific culture?
- Does the item have “sexy” before a nationality and or race?
- Am I just wearing this for fashion?
There often isn’t much room between appreciation and appropriation at times. But the main thing to comprehend for Halloween is, am I just using this for fashion/costume? If yes, then it’s considered appropriation.
The UK and cultural appropriation
The UK has a very different social construct to the US. There seems to be a significantly smaller discussion and awareness of the topic in the UK. For example, when I studied in America, the school provided a “cultural appropriation flow chart” for students when considering their fancy dress costumes. I had never seen this in the UK. Note: I recognise this doesn’t represent all US Colleges.
In the UK we are exposed to some ideas about cultural appropriation. Mainly in pop culture. Whether it’s Katy Perry, The Kardashian’s or Miley Cyrus, it has been brought up in the media. I think because there are less conversations about this subject in the UK, when such topics come up, we either don’t really understand them or they fade out pretty quickly. Becoming aware of what cultural appropriation is, especially for Halloween, is a start.
I’ve read a lot of online arguments that suggest things like “cultural appropriation” prevents cultures coming together. But I disagree. There are so many ways to share culture and appreciate cultures that are not your own. Without including cultural appropriation.
If you are someone who genuinely wants to share cultures there are so many ways to do so. Just doing the tiniest bit of research can make sure you appreciate rather than appropriate.
Don’t fear the conversation
I know it is very easy to become afraid of subjects such as these. They do require understanding and potentially asking some awkward questions about race and culture. I would say be considerate of your questions, but educate yourself. Coming to grips with what cultural appropriate is can be done. Don’t turn your back on the issue because you are afraid of it. It is your responsibility to keep learning and understanding such issues.
At the end of the day, there are so many possible things for you to dress up as for Halloween. Now you’re aware of what cultural appropriation is, don’t contribute to the spread of hate. But do contribute to the spread of understanding and appreciation.