Cast off those cartoony cultural costumes


HANNAH CARR-MURPHY, Opinion Columnist

Every year, I wait impatiently for the Halloween displays to go up. I love the black and orange housewares, the spooky skeleton props and the candy made to look like various body parts. There is, however, one thing about Halloween I don’t anticipate quite as eagerly: costumes that reduce groups of people with rich histories and cultures into caricatured stereotypes for a cheap laugh.

I suppose this is the time in the article when I should make sure everyone is up to speed on the term “cultural appropriation.” This happens when someone outside of a culture adopts or uses elements from another culture, often without the full understanding or appreciation of the meanings and history behind those cultural elements. This would include wearing any type of Native American costume, as well as dressing up as a samurai, a geisha or any other type of ethnic figure.

Examples. Don’t put on a bindi and say you’re from Bollywood. Don’t put on a grass skirt and coconut bra and say you’re Hawaiian.

The thing about cultural appropriation is that it’s inappropriate every day of the year. When it becomes part of a debauched revelry, it just makes it worse. All you have to do is peruse the aisles of our local Halloween store to find the costumes I am cautioning you against. Caricatures of races and cultures abound, like the “Mexican man” costume with a poncho, sombrero and thick mustache. It’s unbelievable that you can buy such costumes in 2015 when so many people are claiming that we’ve become too politically correct.

I’m asking you, Panthers, what are you trying to accomplish with your choice of Halloween costume? Do you want to strike fear and admiration into the hearts of mere mortals? Or do you just want to put on the first costume you can find and wear it to get super wasted? I urge you to reach for the former instead of the latter. There’s no reason to reach for something thoughtless and crass when you could make new friends and impress your squad by dressing as something that displays a little bit about who you are (or who you want to be, clandestinely).

Speaking of crassness, I hate that I have to even mention this, but I’m also not a fan of costumes that poke fun at disasters like dressing up as the Twin Towers (Google it, people will always disappoint you).

Today is October 8. After today, there are 22 days until Halloween. This means that you have over three weeks to think of a Halloween costume that is not racist, culturally-appropriative, homophobic, transphobic or otherwise objectionable to reasonable people. I know I have already been labeled as a major killjoy, but allow me to encourage all of you who are now rethinking your choice of costume: you have been handed a great challenge of your wit and intellect. Halloween is a magical night when everyone is willing to suspend their disbelief and put on a new and exciting identity. Just make sure your identity-for-the-night is not something that sensationalizes, belittles or reduces the identity of others into a single story.