Cultures Aren't Costumes

By: Isabel Paner

It’s now October, and you know what means: spooky, spooky skeletons and people thinking dressing up like a terrorist or a “Tribal Princess” is okay. Just because celebrities have been doing it doesn’t mean you should too. According to Insider, Chris Brown, “posted a photo of himself and friends dressed in turbans with fake beards...” in 2012. In 2013, Tia Mowry used makeup to lighten her skin and donned a geisha costume, earning her the ire and criticism of social media. A couple years earlier, Heidi Klum dressed up as a Hindu goddess in 2008, angering Hindu and Indian-American leaders with her offensive portrayal. "Goddess Kali is highly revered in Hinduism and she is meant to be worshiped in temples and not to be used in clubs for publicity stunts or thrown around loosely for dramatic effect," said Hindu cleric Rajan Zed.

Other people of color have spoken out similarly about dressing up as stereotypes, such as someone dressing up as an “Indian Brave” or a “sexy geisha” or even donning blackface, which has deep historical roots and is an established symbol of prejudice and racism.

Dressing up as stereotypes also creates a mockery out of different cultures. It breaks down complex cultural traditions and costumes into a harmful, singular idea of what someone should be. You might want to wear a sari or a kimono or that headdress you got at Spirit Halloween because you think it’ll look cool, but these are outfits that are part of people’s identities.

“As Native American people we are a culture — not a costume. I understand that wearing a culture as costume is not intended to hurt most of the time. However, the fact of the matter is that it does,” said Terra Trevor, “Our Native American regalia is a tradition for our Native people, and the wearing of it is a distinctly indigenous activity. It is imbued with spiritual meaning and an expression of culture and identity.”

With so many costume choices and unlimited creativity, why dress up as something racist, ableist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, or all of the above? If you’re stuck on ideas, here’s a list of punny costumes to get you started. Don’t settle for a poncho and an over-exaggerated mustache this Halloween. You can do better.