Halloween is No Excuse for Cultural Appropriation

Photo Courtesy of Infrogmation, Wikipedia

Sometimes the scariest thing about the upcoming holiday on Saturday is the rampant cultural appropriation and racism that can occur on Halloween.  

While it is true that many people innocently buy Halloween costumes that promote some form of cultural appropriation, the buying and wearing of such costumes inherently promotes racism and the idea that it is alright to mock a culture that American society may currently be economically, socially and politically oppressing.

Some individuals may find that being called out for wearing a problematic or appropriative costume is ridiculous or humorless, but in a society where white people have a long and dark history of exploitation and domination over minority racial and ethnic groups, having a ‘funny’ Halloween costume can easily reinforce power structures in an offensive way.

Consider, for example, white people’s history of raping, brutalizing and driving Native Americans off of their own land. There should be no need to dress up as “sexy” Native Americans, and there is absolutely no doubt that mocking Native Americans and Native American culture is wrong.

Any educated person should be able to see the parallels between history and the current state of minority groups in America. However, most people who buy and wear racist Halloween costumes tend not to think about the implications that their choice of costume may have on the communities of people who actually belong to that specific culture or social group.

Some people even believe that those who call out racist or appropriative costumes are just “taking things too seriously,” but this statement and belief is lined in privilege. It is privilege to not have to think about the way that popular culture’s representation of minority individuals further marginalizes and alienates these targeted groups from dominant mainstream groups based on race, religion, class, sexuality, etc.

A Facebook image recently went viral that featured four white college-aged women wearing sombreros, mustaches and matching T-shirts that said “Juan Direction” across the chest, implying that the group were paying tribute to the popular boy band group One Direction. This image, along with other variations of the same, have garnered thousands of “likes” by people who may have found this costume to be funny and witty. Of course, I was not among those groups of people.

As a first generation Mexican-American, born to immigrant parents from Mexico, I found these now-viral memes to be quite offensive to the struggles faced by Hispanic immigrants in America. Couple the image with the recent racist and inflamed comments made by Donald Trump and you have a reinforced notion that Mexicans and Mexican culture is not something to embrace and celebrate, but something to belittle.

Let us also not forget the history of blackface in America that produced prejudice, hostility and ignorance toward black people and which has reinforced harmful stereotypes of black individuals and communities.

As a society, we should be seeing things through a historical perspective and realize that there are cultures that are currently being oppressed or have been subjugated in the past, and should not be mocked in any way by way of Halloween costumes. The communities of people who belong to these minority groups deserve more respect than what is currently being offered to them.