Halloween is right around the corner, so most people are asking themselves what to dress up as to celebrate. Costumes tend to be fun-loving, humorous or scary, but sometimes what one person deems funny, another could deem offensive.
This often comes in the form of cultural appropriation — the use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation on Halloween can vary from wearing a sombrero or a Native American headdress to putting on black face or a hijab to reinforce a stereotype about a certain group.
The University of Florida released a memo to their students encouraging them not to engage in such appropriation and offering resources for those troubled by costumes or incidents that surround them. The University of Maryland hasn’t released anything similar, but there is a fairly prevalent campaign on campus sending the same message to avoid costumes that may be disrespectful or offensive, and to continue avoiding such disrespect year-round.
The “It Means More” campaign created by the American Indian Student Union (AISU) includes a series of posters visible around campus showing examples of appropriation.
“We want to let viewers know that our culture means more than just a costume or a fashion statement,” the AISU stated on the campaign’s webpage.
UMD students have varying opinions on the topic of appropriative Halloween costumes.
“It’s important for people to stop appropriating on Halloween since it is the equivalent of making a mockery of hundreds of years of culture and the experiences of many people in this salad bowl of a nation,” sophomore physiology and neurobiology major Nan Zhang said. “It is an extension of colonialism where white culture could essentially override others unless it was deemed exotic or interesting and made into an exhibit.”
Costumes can be especially offensive when they hit a more personal nerve.
“My personal pet peeve (is) “sexy geisha” or “sexy Chinese courtesan” since it paints Asians in a very stereotypical and submissive but sexualized light,” Zhang said.
For some, appropriation on Halloween isn’t important at all.
“I don’t believe people should avoid cultural appropriation, when people dress up for Halloween it isn’t with the intent to hurt a certain race, it’s purely for the fact of having fun,” freshman business major Chris Dillon said.
To others, being generally respectful is what matters most.
“As long as people aren’t being purposely mean to a certain group of people, then it’s Halloween, let them dress up,” freshman Engineering major Joe Roschella said.
Whether or not one believes any offense can come from culturally based costumes, the issue of appropriation is getting hard to avoid.
“I just hope that as more awareness is raised people will be more considerate about others’ backgrounds and feelings before engaging in blackface, yellowface or any equivalent of putting on someone’s history for a costume to make a mockery of them,” Zhang said.