Tricks, Treats, and Misappropriation

Cultural appropriation is described as the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing understanding or respect of and for the culture. Halloween has been a special time of year for not just tricks and treats but also for the conversation of ethics and morals when it comes to culturally appreciative or misappropriating costumes.

“Cultural appropriation is when someone does not know the cultural significance of something (i.e. religious symbol, traditional clothing) and wears it just for the ‘look’ or seeming ‘exotic’ and/or mocking the culture. Cultural appreciation, however, is when members of another cultural background allow you to partake in practices that involve significant symbols, clothing, etc. in order to respect their cultural norms and values,” one editor explained.


Recently, the debate has been about children wearing Disney princess Moana costumes and whether this is cultural appropriation or not. While The Outlook editors agree that this is not the case, there is a consensus of understanding the fine line, or at times blurred line, where a costume can be cultural misappropriation and where it can be appreciated and valued.


One editor said, “Halloween costumes are one of the most significant and visible ways we partake in cultural appropriation. These costumes, such as cowboys and Indians, are normalized so that people don’t question how those who belong to that culture might be affected by seeing their culture misappropriated/sexualized.”


Almost all the editors agreed that they have not fallen victim to cultural appropriation where one editor said, “Personally, I have never felt that my culture was being appropriated, but then again, I feel like as a white female the issue with appropriation is that I shouldn’t be offended by marginalized groups adopting my culture, because technically it is a dominant culture. I think most of appropriation is when dominant cultures rob meaning from marginalized cultures and make it their own.”


But, one editor did recall times where she felt she was being misappropriated by saying, “I’ve seen a number of people dress up for Halloween or even for Cinco de Mayo as stereotypes of what they think these Latinas look like. Also for Halloween, there are a number of people who use a stereotypical ‘yellow face’ to look like Asians or Asian-Americans or people who dress up as their version of Mulan to look more ‘exotic’ or ‘cool.’”


Even though we have the literature and the ability to look up and understand what the differences between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation look like, it is likely that many people will continue doing whatever pleases them.


One editor offered up a way to combat that, “I think awareness and explanation is the best way to handle it, without being too aggressive or combative – I’ve noticed people tend to respond more negatively when they are criticized without a solution being proposed. So I think that commenting, but providing an alternate option, is the best solution.”


“Social media can be a tool for education. Just this morning I watched a video by Al Jazeera Plus that highlighted the signs of cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes,” another editor commented.


Political correctness, The Outlook has seen, is a topic that can go hand in hand with this debate but can often become blurred in the bigger picture. “I think that there is a level of political correctness that takes place in cultural appropriation, since the cultures that are most often exploited are those of marginalized groups. But I think the major player in this is respecting all cultures, and not painting any culture broadly or with a single story,” an editor said.


One editor offered a divergent opinion, saying, “I think it has less to do with people getting mad that people want to be ‘politically correct,’ but more so that those same people are narrow minded and not cognizant of the fact that just because it’s from another culture, doesn’t mean it loses its significance. People need to understand that these people are ridiculed for believing in/defending these cultural ideas every day, and they shouldn’t be allowed to perpetuate negative stereotypes by wearing costumes that are poor and incorrect representations of different cultures.”


The Outlook believes that it is important for people to understand that there is a difference between being appreciative of another culture and while some people may not go into something with the intent of misappropriating or being malicious, to others, it can definitely come off that way.


“The United States is a cultural melting pot with some really beautiful people in it. People should be respectful of cultures, and do their best to display their respect in an educated, informed, and reserved manner,” an editor concluded.