When Halloween comes around each year, the scariest thing that happens without a doubt, is appropriation.
Over the years, we’ve seen things like Black Face, moccasins and headdresses, sombreros and hijabs, gypsy costumes and more all being worn inappropriately to celebrate the masquerading holiday. Underrepresented and misrepresented groups have been experiencing costume-based discrimination for centuries and yet it continues to show itself right on schedule.
So, a (VERY) quick history lesson: The origination of Halloween costumes was an attempt to ward off evil spirits believed to be released on All Hallow’s Eve. As modern day spook-enthusiasts have shifted Halloween celebrations into a $9 billion industry of horror, this playful holiday has transformed into a monster-sized catalyst for cultural appropriation.
Companies like Amazon have so much work to do when it comes to celebrating Halloween. For example, if someone searches “terrorist costume,” the results returned are “Arab Sheikh” or “Arab Prince.” Not cool. Additionally, search results for “Mexican costume” promote sombreros and ponchos worn by a white male. These offensive search terms only serve a discriminatory community and continue to yield profits for a multi-billion dollar company.
So, before heading out to gather tricks and treats, do a double-take of your costume. Give your makeup, clothing, and inspiration sincere thought to make sure it’s D&I certified. To make this a little easier for your Halloween festivities, we’ve put together a list of culturally and naturally insensitive costumes to steer clear of year after year.
It’s true traditional Native American attire is known for its colorful and dramatic aesthetic making the culture a target for appropriation. Animal skins, feathers, woven fabrics and fringe show up like clockwork on Halloween. The important fact to understand is that indigenous peoples have a history of stolen land, slavery, erasure and more. These communities have been slowly shedding since the arrival of European settlers whose intention was to convert and enrapture. Given this traumatic history, this is not a costume to don on Halloween.
Remove the sombrero, put down the poncho and take off that mustache. That sugar skull paint has got to go, too. The Hispanic and LatinX community is made into a mockery each year when Halloween comes around. Too often we see all types of non-related individuals dress up as members of these communities in unacceptable manners. Additionally, as our country continues to make the hispanic community feel unwelcome and increasingly creates hurdles for their citizenship, mocking their culture with a Halloween costume is not the route to take.
Middle Eastern Culture
Each Halloween Middle Eastern cultures are given a negative context, like we mentioned above. Highly religious garments like Hijabs and Sheikh robbing are worn in disrespectful manners leading many to associate these cultures offensively. Middle Eastern communities have faced on-going claims of terrorism and rogue nationalism when in fact neither of these things can be regarded as cultural identifiers. This community has repeatedly received slander from the media fueling obscene actions like wearing traditional dress or religious garments as costumes. These actions being displayed at Halloween festivities defines the anti-semantic behaviors these communities perpetually receive.
Roma or Gypsy
To many, this term is highly offensive and this costume can cause quite the controversy. Additionally, despite popular belief, “tribes” or “nations” of gypsies or Romas did not derive from European states, but rather Gypsy nomadic culture originated in Punjab, a northern region in India. However, due to popular movies like Hunchback of Notre Dame and King of the Gypsies, their cultural has been eradicated and misrepresented throughout time. Although often considered to be fun and bohemian Halloween costumes, dressing as a gypsy leaves room to pay offense to Pacific- Eastern cultures.
Holocaust Victims or Nazis Costumes
The Jewish community carries an extremely heavy history, from the Holocaust to religious traumas, dressing up to misrepresent the Jewish faith is extremely off-color. Likewise, some of the most highly offensive costumes we’ve seen are Holocaust victims, member of Nazi Party under the German regime, and even more the Dictator Hitler. For example, like Prince Harry in a Nazi uniform, a very Jewish communities have suffered multitudes of discrimination, genocide and struggles. This is another costume to steer directly around.
Disabled or Mentally Ill Patients
Religious and Faith Related
Dressing up as a sexy nun, minister, monk or priest have all become regular costumes we see on All Hallow’s Eve. This typically derives from the religious markers that are often displayed in horror films. However, religion is very personal and unique to every faithful person. The sacrality of religion should never show up on a holiday where the idea is to be scary and shocking. For example, Heidi Klum dressing up as the Goddess Kali which has sparked controversy around her actions and left the entire Hindu community in an uproar. Although it might seem like a hit, it’s actually be a huge turn-off to those in religious communities.
With all that said, there are plenty of costumes out there, and by all means, this is nowhere near all the ones that could offend someone or resonate with a negative tone. Even if a costume centered around these communities or others like them are chosen out of admiration, Halloween isn’t the time to show that appreciation. Celebrate these communities all year round as each of them are important pieces to the diversity in our country and each deserve respect in meaningful ways.
Happy Halloween to everyone, remember Halloween is great when you don’t appropriate.
To learn more about how we can help your organization reach its D&I goals, visit www.joonko.co or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.