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We're a Culture, Not a Costume

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – Halloween is that one day a year where pretty much anything goes. Finally, you can fulfill your lifelong dream of becoming a pineapple or Dwight Schrute from The Office. When it comes to picking a costume for Halloween, the sky is truly the limit. A little creativity and some craft supplies can turn a white bed sheet into a pure work of art. It’s all fun and games, until it isn’t. Unfortunately, most cases have seen that white bed sheet turn into a Klansman costume rather than Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Photo courtesy of S.T.A.R.S (Students Teaching About Racism in Society).

In the past several years, however, Halloween has become more of a nightmare than an evening of light-hearted spooky fun for many people. College campuses have been forced to release statements as soon as October 31st rolls around urging students to think twice about what they decide to dress up as. The mere suggestion of censoring costumes has really struck a nerve with some students. According to an article from The New York Times, some feel that cultural appropriation gets a free pass on Halloween because it’s “normal costuming… and there’s a lot of oversensitivity.”
The argument that “you’re supposed to wear a costume on Halloween” seems to be the most prominent amongst those in opposition of the push for politically correct costumes. For one night a year, are we supposed to just excuse blatant acts of racism via blackface or the sexualizing of minorities because it’s simply a costume? When you get to college, Halloween is more than one night of free candy. It’s generally a week (or more) of costumed debauchery. Should we just start excusing cultural misrepresentation the entire month of October?
“Dressing up as a person of another nationality or culture, without active permission, for a Halloween costume is cultural appropriation,” says Erin Comiskey, a senior health studies major at Monmouth University. “It undermines the authenticity and contemporary presence of specific cultures.”
Photo Courtesy of Emma Gepner
Photo Courtesy of Emma Gepner

Those in the dominant cultural group are able to take their sexy Geisha costume off at the end of the night and not worry about being fetishized by men for their race long after Halloween ends. They can wash away the blackface they so carefully applied and distance themselves once again from the historical and institutionalized mistreatment toward African Americans in society. They can take off their Native American headdress and toss their plastic tomahawk to the bottom of their closet and forget about the fact that our country is currently arresting Native Americans in North Dakota for trying to protect their drinking water.
I think you get my point.
It can be fun to be something you’re not for a day, but your fun should not have to intrude on someone else’s well-being. For example, being Chinese, my options for Disney princesses that represented me were extremely slim. When I was in pre-school, I dressed up as Mulan and it was awesome. Fast-forward 20 years, and the case is still the same – the princesses are becoming more diverse, but the most infamous are still white. Ariel, Belle, and Cinderella may all have different hair colors, but they’re all the same race; and no one is going to get too upset at the sight of a brunette mermaid or blonde Belle. But, seeing someone not of Asian decent in a full-fledged Mulan or Geisha costume, white face paint and all, would certainly make me uncomfortable.
Being considerate of minority groups doesn’t mean we have to revert back to dressing up as pumpkins. You can still rock a cool Kimye couple’s costume without being offensive. If you’re ever curious or unsure if your costume may offend someone, just ask! If you really can’t think of something to be that won’t offend anyone, just dress up as an over-tired, stressed out college student. We can all pull that off.