Homeless person. Suicide bomber. Racial stereotypes. Black face. Mental illness. Rape victim. Native American. Geisha. Caitlyn Jenner.
Halloween’s most frightening costumes are not scary clowns, creepy zombies or bloody characters, but rather the trend of insensitivity and/or cultural appropriation that is always highlighted during this time of the year.
Cultural appropriation is often defined by the use of cultural elements by someone from a different culture, but the Sept. 25 Alternet article “How to Explain Cultural Appropriation to Anyone Who Just Doesn’t Get It” went beyond on defining it as also a clash of power.
“The power of the privileged to borrow and normalize a cultural element of another group, while the appropriated group is often demonized and excluded because of that very cultural element,” they wrote.
An example of that is when white celebrities are deemed fashionable by borrowing black hairstyles, but the same are not socially accepted when black people wear them. This is privilege at its peak, and it is cultural appropriation. In the pursuit of the most unique, creative or outrageous idea for Halloween, people often cross the fine line between being flashy and simply lacking consideration, respect and common sense. At the expense of others, costumes are put together through exploiting people who are often already marginalized and stigmatized by society, or simply embodying oppression itself.
Not only does this water down issues that are important and delicate but also underlines lack of empathy of those who believe a night’s worth of laughs trumps the seriousness of such matters. It is not “only a costume,” “only a joke,” or “only for fun.” And believing that it is possible to put aside all the pre-existing trauma associated with such contexts and laughing it off is not only ignorant but also extremely selfish.
The trend of cultural appropriation, unfortunately, is not limited to Halloween. Although the holiday has a tendency to highlight it, the practice is far more common than it should be. The store Urban Outfitters faced backlash multiple times for insensitive outfits, such as a T-shirt that read “Eat Less,” a bloody Kent State University sweatshirt that alluded to the 1970 massacre and a T-shirt with a star of David patch similar to the one Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.
While not enough light is shed on the issue of insensitive, tasteless costumes or outfits, not much will be done to change this trend. It is about time society collectively takes affirmative action against normalizing such repulsive costumes.
If people cannot find better pieces of clothing than ones that exploit the struggles of others, they will likely have no problem showing up as monsters for next Halloween – whether intended or not.