Halloween is the magical night when anyone can become anything they want, to embrace a character or identity one cannot express in their everyday life. But should everything be up for grabs?
This topic of costumes influenced from other cultures is a sensitive one, and there is a fine line between creativity and exploitation. Headdresses, turbans, and even blackface may appear in Halloween costumes.
These elements make many people uncomfortable and appalled based on historical events and cultural appropriation. This term has quite a few different interpretations, but it essentially refers to the event of one culture using and absorbing elements from an entirely different culture. Other definitions include that these elements are used and taken without permission, emphasizing the belief that a certain culture is being robbed and taken advantage of.
So why should we avoid the “Sexy Indian” costume?
Well, first of all, they’re called Native Americans. We shouldn’t be holding onto a term wrongly coined by an explorer who thought he landed on a completely different continent.
But more importantly, dressing like this is seen as cultural appropriation. For example, wearing a headdress can be interpreted as highly disrespectful because it is an extremely meaningful element of the Native American’s culture. Each feather was earned from an important event and a headdress was carefully constructed when enough feathers were earned. “Only the most brave and powerful of the tribe wore headdresses,” so it seems inappropriate for me, a white girl who has never hunted a buffalo or been forced out of my land, to wear one. This is more than a simple personal offense. It is taking an object that represents an entire culture – their struggles, tragedies, traditions – and using it as a decoration for a night out.
But what if little blonde Mary Sue in 3rd grade wants to be Pocahontas for Halloween because she also paints with all the colors of the wind? This brings up the other side of the argument.
Some argue that cultural appropriation is an exaggerated notion and actually drives a deeper wedge between our cultures and segregates us even more as a nation. It’s also dangerous to make certain characters “off limits” because of their culture, because it reinforced the idea that race is the main identification of a character, as opposed to their… you know… their actual character.
I can see both sides of the argument, and I wonder if there is any sort of middle ground in which we can all embrace the cultures within our country without disrespecting them. But I think it’s important to take careful consideration into the decisions of costumes and characters to take on this Halloween. We should dress as sexy, funny, or scary as we want, and be mindful to not exploit a culture.
Collegian writer Rachel Hamalian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @rachel_erin14