Halloween Costumes Bring Up the Issue of Cultural Appropriation

When choosing a costume for Halloween, the concept of cultural appropriation is often a topic that gets brought up. At Minnesota State University, Mankato, many students feel very differently about the topic. 

Otylia Markham, a current junior at MNSU said, “I would describe cultural appropriation as people of a different culture taking something from another person’s culture.” 

Generally, culture appropriation is the term to describe taking over a cultural group’s themes or practices by using it for one’s own creative and artistic forms. It becomes a more prominent issue during Halloween as some people use the holiday as an opportunity to wear clothes from differing cultures. 

Junior student at MNSU, Beian Lu, stated, “I feel people should be able to wear whatever they want. It is their choice just like it is their choice to wear a crop top if they wish.”

When asked what she would think if she saw somebody wearing a culture stereotype as a costume Lu responded, “I wouldn’t think anything cause it really depends on the circumstance. If they are at an event or at a celebration it doesn’t really matter, but like if you just wear it, it’s going to pop out, but I don’t think it’s wrong.” 

On the other hand, Markham stated, “I believe cultural appropriation through costumes are simply bad and nobody should do it.” 

Markham added on, “If I see somebody in a costume of a culture stereotype, it’ll depend on the age. If it’s someone who is clearly knowledgeable, like an adult or even a teenager, I would think that they are probably racist. But if it’s a child, they probably don’t understand.” 

Examples of offensive costumes include sombreros, ponchos, mustaches or anything that depicts a Mexican stereotype, Native American feathers or anything depicting Native Americans, the “G” slur that has been used to discriminate against Romani people, and box braids, dreadlocks, Fulani braids. 

Other costumes that people have debated on if they are offensive or not include Aladdin, Princess Jasmine, Princess Tiana, Mulan, Black Panther. 

Culture appropriation sometimes gets mistaken with culture appreciation. 

Culture appreciation is the term to describe learning about another culture with respect and courtesy. It is enjoying and appreciating another culture by taking the time to learn about it and interact with people a part of it. Appreciation is the effort to broaden one’s perspective by gaining a genuine understanding and connecting cross-culturally. 

Cultural appropriation is not the only thing people should be wary of when thinking about costume ideas. 

Other costumes that involve topics such as mass shootings, natural disasters, different lifestyles, and traumatizing subjects are not seen as okay to base a costume off of. 

Examples of costumes that involve these topics would be a holocaust victim, transphobic costumes, a homeless person, the Black Lives Matter movement, or a terrorist. 

An idea that should be followed is if you even have to question the ethics of your costume, it is probably not a good idea to wear it. There are many other acceptable ideas to choose from.

Header photo: A photo of the homecoming ceremony at Mankato State College in the 1957-1958 school year. The school’s mascot and sports teams were named the “Indians” until 1977, when it was decided to change the name to what the teams are now known as, the “Mavericks”. (University Archives)

One thought on “Halloween Costumes Bring Up the Issue of Cultural Appropriation

  • Ron Duncan

    As somebody of Irish/Scottish ancestry, if you aren’t descended from the Celts, you are engaging in cultural appropriation if you celebrate Halloween. My culture isn’t your entertainment.

    As you state, “Generally, culture appropriation is the term to describe taking over a cultural group’s themes or practices by using it for one’s own creative and artistic forms.”

    Halloween started as a cultural practice of the Celts – and you are now using it for your own creative and artistic form.

    Just wanted to point out the hypocrisy here.


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