Cultures aren’t costumes


by Kari Barnick

Halloween has always tied with Christmas for my favorite holiday. I love the orange and black colors, the witches and black cats, the candy and costumes. All these combine to create a fantastic, spooky night full of tricks and treats for everyone to enjoy.

But Halloween can easily turn into a nightmare, instead of fun, if your ethnicity or gender is being presented as a joke. I don’t think anyone intends to be discriminatory with their Halloween costumes, but unfortunately it happens too frequently.

Almost all Halloween stores carry culturally insensitive costumes. Common stereotypical costumes include “Indian Princess,” “Sexy Geisha,” “Illegal Mexican,” “Sexy Latino Dancer” and many more. The racist nature of these costumes normalizes the oppression marginalized identities experience all year. It sexualizies a particular group of people that already have higher rates of sexual violence than white identities.  According to INCITE, a national activist organization, American Indian women are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime than women or men of any other ethnic group, though other marginalized ethnicities are also found to have higher rates of sexual violence than their white counterparts.

By wearing culture as a costume, you’re encouraging a cycle of violence. These costumes are cheapening the heritage and culture of the groups by poorly representing them. In the case of American Indians, the bead work on the dresses has a specific meaning and every piece is created for a specific purpose. The costumes generalize all American Indians as the same when there are many tribes with a variety of cultures and values.

Besides mocking race, costumes mimic gender. Caitlyn Jenner is the year’s newest popular costume. Stores are now selling a “Call Me Caitlyn” costume for men, mind you, as well as an Olympian Bruce Jenner outfit. Apparently, costume stores have taken this as an opportunity to make money. Wearing this costume has less to do with Jenner and more to do with belittling transgender individuals in their process of living their true selves. The costume is disrespectful and sends the message that transgender individuals are a joke. Specifically, marketing the costume for men is problematic since Caitlyn Jenner is not a man.

There are so many fun options for costumes that it’s time to retire offensive costumes regarding race and gender. When picking out your costume, be mindful of what you’re portraying, because Halloween should be fun for everyone — no matter one’s ethnicity or gender.

If you truly appreciate a marginalized culture, find better ways to support them. November 5 at 7:30 p.m., the American Indian Student Association is presenting  the Not Your Pocahottie panel discussion for American Indian Heritage Month. There are lots of student organizations on campus where you can learn about a variety of cultures, sexualities and genders and how to represent them in a positive light.

Next time you find yourself picking out a Halloween costume, just be respectful and mindful of what you’re wearing so everyone can enjoy Halloween.

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