Halloween is the perfect excuse to become someone else; a cheeky nurse, killer clown, or your favourite 90s TV character. It’s the time to have fun with fancy dress, to get creative, but there are boundaries. Cultural appropriation is a growing problem in modern society, and this scary ignorance becomes far more prominent at Halloween.
You might think that dressing up as a sexy Pocahontas or shirtless Chieftain is harmless, however, it is a classic case of cultural appropriation. Americans with Native roots have been outraged at celebrities such as Khloe Kardashian, Paris Hilton and Chrissy Tiegan who have appropriated their heritage. Cultural appropriation is ignorant of the Native American culture, as their headdresses and feather regalia have spiritual meaning, and are key to their identity. They are not accessories to a fancy dress costume.
Not only is the use of their culture as a Halloween costume insulting to their heritage, but it serves only to perpetuate the stereotype of colonised Native Americans, and glorifies a dark aspect of American history.
Hilary Duff was criticised last Halloween for going to a Halloween bash as a pilgrim, and her boyfriend as a Native chief.
This racist Halloween costume was particularly inappropriate against the backdrop of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, where American Indians were working to protect sacred grounds from being contaminated and destroyed.
As one of the most underrepresented and misunderstood national minorities in North America, their culture is not a Halloween costume. So let’s stay away from the “Pocahottie” and “Sexy Indian Girl” for this Halloween.
While there are a wealth of brilliant costumes that happen to be based on black people, it is never appropriate to ‘blackface’. ‘Blackface’ is a blatant form of cultural appropriation that turns ethnicity into a piece of fancy dress.
Recent examples of celebrities ‘black-facing’ include Julianne Hough, who chose to ‘blackface’ in her costume as the iconic Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black. This is a great costume if she didn’t darken her skin and in the process make race part of the joke.
YouTuber Percem Akin caused controversy by doing a ‘blackface fancy dress’ tutorial for an African slave. As if this couldn’t get any worse, she used the hashtag #slave and #sadmakeup to promote her ‘transformation’. Colton Haynes, of Teen Wolf fame, received backlash for previous Halloween costumes, namely when he blackfaced Kanye West and Gandhi.
If you want to dress up as a black icon, then, by all means, wear an iconic Beyoncé outfit or don the Django gear. But never change the colour of your skin. Black culture as a whole is not a costume. Dreadlocks, cornrows, and stuffed rear ends only serve to mock a group of people in society that have been historically marginalised.
Cultures are not costumes, don’t sexualise them. Sexy Gypsies, sexy Geishas, or sexy Indians… they serve only to offend culture by sexualising their traditions. A prime example is Heidi Klum dressed as a sexy Hindu goddess, Kali, appropriating a sacred religion.
Instead, dress as a fantastical, historical or mythical figure, like a unicorn or a caveman. Go as a fruit, a policeman, a festival goer, cartoon character, Disney character… just make sure to leave cultural appropriation at Halloween in the past.
illustration: Moira Scicluna Zahara