Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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)

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].

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  • V

    VictoriaNov 2, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    For those of you who are unaware, Samhain involved people going door-to-door in costumes or disguises to perform tricks in exchange for food to celebrate the end of the harvest and the coming of winter. That is what Halloween is today, with the modern twists. Although it’s origin is from Samhain, when writing a short article about a topic that is relevant today, there is no need to discuss the ancient origins. As mature college students, there is also no need to write cruel and unnecessary messages that uses primitive and unscholarly language

    This article is a perfect way of expressing the issues we face today. Even if you do not agree with what people can and should not dress up as, Halloween should a night of fun and candy that allows people to express people they admire or characters they wish to be. Those costumes should not create or promote stereotypes and discrepancies about the cultures, and that message needs to be spread.

    Keep up the amazing work!!! I hope to see more articles this well written and showing an opinion regardless of what others agree with.

  • K

    KarenNov 2, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    I agree!! I appreciate that this article brings to light the ignorance in us, even though it’s unintentional. It’s never too late to be educated about other cultures, but just in the right way. We dress up in costume as characters and to dress in another culture’s traditional clothing is insensitive, especially if parts of the clothing holds personal significance. This should be a safe space for everyone and frankly many of these comments are unnecessarily rude. You should speak your mind. But if speaking your mind means to bully someone in order to boost your own ego, then you should keep it to yourself.

  • J

    John HollandOct 31, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    The irony that someone writes of Halloween, Samhain, a Celtic festival, without any regard or respect for its origin or purpose. To the writer of this inane article, I wish I didn’t have to share the world with someone as stupid as you.

  • N

    NITZAKHONOct 31, 2018 at 9:05 am

    You’re speaking English and using technology developed in the West, in a country that has a Bill of Rights that is virtually unique across both the globe today and throughout the span of history. How dare you appropriate my culture?

  • R

    RobertOct 31, 2018 at 7:58 am

    I agree with the main point of this article in that aspects taken out of context from another culture can perpetuate stereotypes of that culture. I do feel as though this article doesn’t offer any insight into what may be an appropriate costume for Halloween that doesn’t appropriate from another culture.

  • A

    amyOct 31, 2018 at 1:23 am

    The concerns over ‘cultural appropriation’ makes liberals look like idiots and also makes a mockery of the cultures being ‘appropriated’ as being extremely sensitive and also even lacking an intelligence.

    Halloween is a holiday anyone an participate in, mostly that children participate in because they go house to house seeking candy and they wear costumes . It’s for fun. Do liberals know what fun is?

    I really wish that liberals would stop bringing up these infantile positions; we attend a college, not a pre-school. The sad thing is that even seems children have a high level of maturity over Halloween then many liberals and offended cultures.