Cultural Appropriation & Halloween Costumes

Halloween is almost here! Which means it’s time to decorate your house with spooky décor, carve pumpkins, stock up on candy and of course pick the perfect costume.

When selecting a costume, we want to look cool and follow trends. It might be appealing or seem fun to dress as a Native American (Pocahontas), geisha, Gypsy, belly dancer or face paint a Mexican Day of the Dead ‘sugar mask’.

However what you might not realize is that your costume choice could be promoting the normalization of cultural appropriation.

But what does cultural appropriation really mean? How is it different from cultural appreciation? And how do I know if my costume is culturally insensitive? We have those answers for you so you can pick a costume that rocks – without being culturally offensive.

What is Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural appropriation can be defined as adopting cultural elements such as gestures, phrases, fashion or trends by someone who doesn’t belong to that specific ethnic group. As well as someone who fails to acknowledge and understand the cultural significance of those elements.

This is especially visible during the Halloween season. In the mind of some individuals – dressing up in a foreign culture’s national attire is a celebration of multiculturalism and globalization.

However, that is simply not true – based on the definition of cultural appropriation:

Someone who doesn’t belong to a specific ethnic group but adopts cultural elements and fails to acknowledge and/or understand their cultural significance.

Dressing in a foreign culture’s attire as a costume manifests harmful stereotypical cultural views, racism, prejudices, and can be seen as mocking other cultures.

To summarize – we should not be portraying national/traditional clothes as “funny”, “scary” or as a costume at all.

Stop the Appropriation. Start to Appreciate.

Not all of our actions towards other cultures are offensive. We can show an appreciation of other ethnic groups by learning their history, language, dances or literature.

Show appreciation by respectfully asking members of other cultures to share their stories, experiences, cultural norms, and to even teach you how to cook their national dish.

Additionally, you can participate in other culture’s celebrations – like weddings, birthdays and many other types of celebrations.

Participating in different cultural events or days of significance is a great opportunity to respectfully experience another culture.

How to Choose a Halloween Costume

Is it even possible to dress cool for Halloween while being respectful and showing cultural competence?

The answer is – definitely, yes!

When asking yourself whether your costume choices are appropriate, use this guide for assistance.

Get creative – not offensive!

For more information on this topic, check out these videos


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