Point: Cultural appropriation isn’t acceptable just because it’s Halloween

The matter of cultural appropriation doesn’t need to be political


(courtesy of THEM magazine’s facebook page)

By Rithika Senthilkumar, Collegian Columnist

With the current political climate in the United States, the debate between free expression and political correctness is a highly-argued topic. This debate becomes even more amplified as the Halloween festivities begin to gain speed. The holiday began as a way to ward off evil spirits, which explains the scary and spooky costumes people donned in the past. However, like many other things in America, it didn’t take long for Halloween to become highly commercialized. Its purpose is no longer to just ward off evil spirits; it has become a means for self-expression. However, when people don’t think beyond their own perspectives and experiences, they can end up expressing themselves in very offensive manners.

Even though we are becoming more socially conscious and aware as a society, there are still people out there who do not understand the concept of cultural appropriation. The Oxford Dictionary defines the term as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

People try to diminish the importance of avoiding cultural appropriation by arguing our society is taking political correctness too far. They ask, “what’s wrong with a little fun during Halloween?” They claim society takes these kinds of Halloween costumes too seriously and makes them political. However, it is exactly this kind of attitude that needs to be corrected.

Cultural appropriation demonstrates the oppression of minority cultures. As a nation, the United States already does not do the best job taking responsibility for its past mistakes involving race and culture. The disrespect and disdain caused by these past actions are intensified by people engaging in cultural appropriation in the name of Halloween. Seeing someone else reducing your culture or ethnicity to a mere costume without having any appreciation or respect for it is downright offensive and disrespectful. The popular ‘cultural’ Halloween costumes people wear (Native American headdresses, Mexican sombreros and Japanese Geishas, to name a few,) have meaning and significance to people belonging to those cultures. To turn these significant aspects of those cultures into Halloween costumes is insulting and derogatory.

Popular media has done its part perpetuating cultural and racial stereotypes, and the damage it has done is appalling. Over the years, there have been several occurrences of cultural appropriation in the media. One particular instance involves Victoria’s Secret, a lingerie company that was brought under fire for dressing one of its models in a Native American headdress during a fashion show. Another similar case of cultural appropriation involves singer and performer Katy Perry, who was criticized for performing at the American Music Awards dressed as a Japanese Geisha. In both cases, the appropriators not only disrespected significant aspects of Native American and Japanese culture, but also perpetuated stereotypes about each culture.

However, this is not to mean no one can ever relate to cultures that are different from their own. There is a key difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. It is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to want to learn more about a culture that is different from your own. It is just important to note that dressing up in a cultural costume for Halloween is not the same as trying to understand and appreciate a certain culture.

As far as political correctness is concerned, avoiding cultural appropriation need not be political at all. It is simply a matter of whether or not you are being disrespectful of another culture. There is really no need to drag politics into the matter.

Free expression is important, but not at the cost of an entire culture that will be disrespected and insulted. Understanding and agreeing about this, as a society, would be a major step toward addressing the bigger issues of the racial and cultural divides in this country.


Rithika Senthilkumar is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]