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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

December 7, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Editorial: Cultures do not deserve to be worn as costumes

This time last year, announcements for a preps and crooks–themed party by Alpha Epsilon Pi fueled future protests against racial insensitivity at Ithaca College. Around the same time, Yale University struggled with its own reckoning of a denigrated racial climate after news surfaced of a “white girls only” remark at a fraternity party and an email from a lecturer arguing that college students can decide for themselves about whether or not they should wear racist Halloween costumes.

It seems perfectly innocuous: sporting tribal makeup and a headdress, wearing a sombrero and a fake mustache, dressing up in baggy clothes and painting your face black. But with Halloween only a few days away, it must be made clear that these kinds of costumes — a Native American, a Mexican, a “thug” — are racist and insensitive appropriations of another person’s culture.

Cultural appropriation is the insensitive adoption or use of elements of one culture by another culture, without an understanding and appreciation of these cultures. It’s most rampant during Halloween, when people decide to put on a characterized, one-dimensional mask of another racial, ethnic or religious group “for fun.”

Halloween, being considered a holiday when people can unleash their creativity and dress up in costume, is not an excuse to use racial stereotypes and caricatures as a foundation for attire. Objects like Native American headdresses and jewelry are sacred to indigenous cultures, imbued with depth and meaning that are often lost on those who decide to mimic these styles.

Furthermore, costumes that are based on stereotypes of another culture — a sombrero and poncho to represent a Mexican or a turban to represent a Muslim — are insulting to the people who identify with these groups. Boiling down an entire culture into a costume is racially insensitive and only further contributes to the marginalization of these groups. It says that these people are these stereotypes, as if every person of a certain race dresses a certain way and acts a certain way.

These costumes are yet another symptom of the environment of racism and oppression that continues to permeate society. In the fight to combat systemic racism, having people become cognizant of the destructive nature of culturally appropriative costumes would be a small step in the right direction.