Halloween 2018 is quickly approaching so it’s just about the right time to agonize over what you’ll dress up as this year. With so many successful box office movies and memorable pop culture moments, this year is sure to showcase some awesomely creative, comical and stunning costumes.
And although we don’t have a crystal ball, it’s fair to imagine that Halloween will also see its fair share of racially insensitive and otherwise tasteless costumes. Remember the time (pre-Meghan Markle) that Prince Harry dressed up in a Third Reich uniform? The more we progress as a society and become increasingly exposed to diverse narratives, the more we look up to and admire cultures that are different from our own. And that is definitely a good thing.
But what happens when your kid comes home and all she can talk about is how she wants to dress up as her favorite POC (person of color) character for Halloween? From Moana and Coco to Crazy Rich Asians, a lot of this year’s movies showcased incredible non-white characters worthy of being lauded and admired, though it might not be your kid’s place to honor them with a disguise. And even when they’re not racially appropriative, a closer look at some cute and funny costumes will reveal they’re in fact quite problematic — at best.
Below, a few costumes people of any age should probably reconsider.
Moana is arguably one of the best films Disney has released in recent memory. A spunky Polynesian teen (Moana) embarks on an adventure to save her people, and all kinds of madness ensues. Oh, and did we mention The Rock is in it? <3
But all adorability aside, Moana might not be the best costume to pin up on your Halloween mood board. Last year, Sachi Feris wrote a post called “Moana, Elsa, and Halloween” for the blog Raising Race-Conscious Children that quickly went viral. In it, she detailed an important conversation she had with her daughter who wanted to dress up like the Polynesian character: “I don’t like the idea of dressing up using the same traditional clothing that someone from Moana’s culture may have worn because that feels like we are laughing at her culture by making it a costume. A child whose family is Polynesian could dress up using that type of traditional clothing but Moana’s culture is not our culture.”
Although many lauded Sachi for making her daughter aware of cultural appropriation at such a young age, her ideas did receive backlash too, as People reported. In any case, she started an important conversation about not making cultures into costumes.
It’s kind of crazy that this needs to be said, but dressing your young daughter up as the persecuted teenage diarist is not a very cute idea. Several costume stores half-decided that it was a questionable choice, but instead of removing the outfit from their shops altogether, decided to change the name from “Anne Frank costume” to “Child’s 1940s Girl Historical Costume.” Another store, Wellindal, sells the disguise with the copy “World War II Evacuee.” Except, Anne Frank didn’t… Nevermind. Best to stay away from this one.
While there’s nothing wrong with belting “Un Poco Loco” or Coco‘s other hit song, “Remember Me,” it might be best to keep your appreciation for this film in the musical realm this Halloween. Disney was lauded for finally representing Latin culture within its film franchise empire, and it also introduced many Americans to the Mexican tradition the Day of the Dead.
While some might be eager to flock to the drug store for face paint or buy a ready-made Mama Imelda costume online, one person took to Twitter to explain why dressing up as a sugar skull is not the best idea: “I must say that as a Mexican [it] is way more offensive that you reduce a traditional festivity to a Disney film than the costume. Coco is not the Day of the Dead or part of it.”
Hollidappy goes on to explain, “Día de Los Muertos is an important holiday in Mexico. It is a time for reflection, prayer, and honouring the deceased. It is a spiritual and culturally-specific holiday, so sugar skulls are not just pretty make-up for every white girl to paint her face with. They mean a lot more than that.”
While we can all agree that Pocahontas was awesome, dressing yourself or your kid up in Native American costumes is definitely not. Simon Moya-Smith, editor of Indian Country Today, explained why in a conversation with Culture Trip: “Cultural exchange requires both parties giving permission, whereas cultural appropriation is outright theft.”
In a Teen Vogue video entitled “My Culture Is NOT a Costume,” Valerie Reynoso goes on to explain why native garb doesn’t make for a choice Halloween costume. “We’re seen as TV characters, you know, just like the savage with the fringes and these boots that aren’t even accurate,” she said. “Even our body paint has meaning and then, you know, you just put on this cheap paint that you probably got at the dollar store for fun because you thought it was funny. Like, my existence is just comical or hilarious to you.”
From Rihanna to Kim Kardashian, everyone is obsessed (again!) with Chola culture. But the Mexican-American subculture recognizable by its big hoop earrings, drawn-on eyebrows and heavy lip liner is not a trend, and when people wear the styles of marginalized groups, it’s not fashion. That’s called cultural appropriation.
As an article on Cosmopolitan explains, cholas and chongas “tend to face racism, sexism, and classism. In other words, making a mockery of these real-life identities is a jerk move.”
We loved Crazy Rich Asians just as much as the next person, but not blindly enough to wear any old traditional Asian outfit as Halloween costume. And you probably shouldn’t either.
Cultural appropriation is using the aspects of someone else’s culture out of context and without any knowledge of the people’s history. Plus, it’s really hard work to become a geisha, and lathering some white paint on your face before going around the neighborhood asking for candy is exoticizing Japanese traditions, and is essentially a slap in the face to their culture.
So when you start shopping for your and your kids’ costumes this year, Susan Scafidi, author of Who Owns Culture: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law has a few quick tips to share. She told USA Today that a good idea when brainstorming a Halloween outfit is to put yourself in the characters shoes figuratively before driving out to Party City to put yourself in their shoes literally.
Per her conversation with the site, these are the three rules of thumb Susan encourages people to follow when shopping for Halloween:
Source: Think first about the source culture. Is this a culture that has been historically discriminated against or oppressed (blacks, American Indians). If so, proceed with caution.
Significance (or sacredness): What’s the significance of what you’re taking? Is it something that is of major cultural significance, or maybe even something sacred, or is it just a run-of-the-mill ordinary item, an everyday commodity? (American Indian headdresses, Scafidi said, are the “equivalent of military medals. They’re not just decoration or hats or jewelry or something ornamental. They mean something.”)
Similarity: And finally, think about the similarity of what you’re doing. Are you interpreting or being inspired by someone else’s culture, or are you just making an exact copy?
So, what will you and your kids wear this year?