Editorial: A Series of Unfortunate Costumes: The Ubiquity of Cultural Appropriation on Halloween
It’s Halloween night in an especially loud and inordinately crowded Grotto’s. You look across the bar and notice a quiet girl from class is dressed as a homeless person. She dons an oversized flannel, faux-dirt smudges across her face and spandex shorts in lieu of pants. Hanging around her neck, a sign reads “will twerk for alcohol” in Sharpie scrawl.
Each Halloween, however, Main Street is littered with students, likely unknowingly, dressed in offensive costumes. Students on this campus and around the country choose to apply blackface, dress as transphobic iterations of transgender icons and style themselves as homeless people, among a slew of other outrageous options. They do so without understanding, or seeking to understand, the nuanced ways that these costumes contribute to advancing a culture of fear, white privilege and the ostracization of minority populations.
This year, the Five and Dime is selling costume sets like “Abdul, Sheik of Persia” and “Native American headdress,” or a serape and sombrero pairing for those interested in eliciting any combination of toxic stereotypes. If students were to take a look around them, they might notice that all of the demographics they are choosing to offensively portray via their Halloween costumes are members of this campus community.
Ultimately, minority students are forced to bear the brunt of these disrespectful portrayals. If they choose to speak out against these insulting outfits, they run the risk of being deemed over-sensitive killjoys. Additionally, as most students know, there is a sizable homeless population in Newark. Homeless people do not have the luxury of going home after a night out and taking off their costume. By outwardly mocking these race and class distinctions, students are alienating populations who are already being silenced and excluded in the campus context.
In some instances, there is a fine line. Some argue that white people dressing as a character from this year’s blockbuster hit Black Panther may be inappropriate because of the ties that each costume has to traditional African cultural garb. Others consider this costume choice a celebration of black culture and a positive result of increased minority representation in film. They argue that it’s empowering for minorities to be seen in a powerful, streamlined way.
More importantly, just because you think an outfit might be funny, it doesn’t mean that it’s worth it. In fact, that costume probably isn’t funny at all. Even if no one in your circle of friends thinks that there is an issue with a derogatory costume, that does not make the costume acceptable. This agreement is more likely to occur because of the innately social nature of Halloween and a desire to remain, ironically, uncontroversial.
This year, do not dress as a terrorist. Do not show up to a bar dressed in a sombrero or a ninja costume. You should not apply blackface or wear a Native American headdress. Please do not wear a Caitlyn Jenner costume, even if your friends think it’s a hilarious idea. Instead, try dressing as a hotdog, librarian, absentee ballot, ballerina — basically anything else. Please research the ways that a costume may be offensive before wearing it, because it is important to understand that there is a difference between respectfully celebrating minority culture and appropriating that culture in an offensive way.
Editorials are developed by The Review’s editorial board, and reflect the majority view of the staff, the Editor in Chief and the Executive Editor. The editorial board was led this week by Editorial Editor Alex Eichenstein. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.