It’s a Culture, Not a Costume

The Issue with Culturally Inappropriate Costumes


Graphic by Alycen Kim

Alycen Kim, Editor-in-Chief

Cobwebs, costumes, candy and cultural appropriation?

Halloween is just around the corner,  bringing about a night of dressing up and dishing out sweets.

But, along with the influx of candy and decorations in grocery stores comes a conversation about wearing racist or insensitive costumes on one of the most festive nights of the year.

Take a Native American costume, for example.

Walk into any costume store and you’re bound to see one of these “Indian” costumes and matching accessories hanging from the rack.

Think fringe, faux suede, braids and feather headdresses.

Although this is a very common costume, especially for young children, it may be seen as disrespectful to wear such a stereotypical portrayal of Native American culture while remaining uneducated about their diverse culture and history of violent oppression at the hands of white colonizers.

Interestingly, the rise of original Disney movies in the past few years has sparked a heated debate about culturally appropriate costumes.

Popular movies that feature diverse casts such as “Black Panther” and “Coco” have subsequently created a demand for matching character attire.

But, there is a fine line between portraying a character out of respect and admiration and

portraying a character to exploit his or her identity and background.

A prime example of this influx of Disney inspired costumes is the “Moana” movie, which is based on Polynesian culture and history.

Auli’i Cravalho, the Hawaiian actress who voiced Moana, stated that she had no problem with fans dressing up as her character for Halloween.

At the same time,  Disney was condemned for releasing a Maui (one of the characters in the film) costume that featured a long sleeve brown shirt with printed tattoos similar to those of Polynesian chiefs.

Not only did the shirt change the skin color of the wearer, but it also insensitively displayed Polynesian tattoos representing sacred symbols, a vital and spiritual element of Polynesian history.

The most important thing to keep in mind during Halloween is to stay respectful and appreciative of other peoples’ cultures and traditions.

Avoid culturally significant embellishments, such as tattoos, hijabs, or specific hairstyles.

Do your research if you are unsure about your costume.

And before donning your attire and heading out on Halloween night, ask yourself one more time if your costume could be considered appropriation or admiration.