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Avoiding Cultural Appropriation This Halloween

For many, Halloween represents a celebratory time to (re)create spooky scenes with vivid décor, spend time with loved ones, indulge in tasty treats, and perhaps most importantly - dress in fun costumes!
According to the National Retail Federation, although Halloween spending is down this year, it is estimated that 2020 spending will reach approximately $8 billion nationally!i 

When considering costumes, it is important to choose options that are not culturally appropriative. 

What Does This Mean? 
Cultural appropriation can be defined as the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of customs, practices, ideas, etc. of a social group by members of another and typically more dominant social group. Simply put, cultural appropriation means trying on parts of a culture that don’t belong to you. 

Why is it Problematic? 
Dressing up like any ethnic/racial group is offensive. It reduces traditional clothing, customs and practices to a joke or simply an aesthetic - an aesthetic that one can take off at the end of the night. Individuals of marginalized/oppressed groups whose identities are trivialized and come with sociohistorical trauma, however, do not have the privilege of ‘taking off’ the oppression they face on an everyday basis. 

Cultural appropriation is harmful, even if you don’t intend for it to be. Such costumes often rely on stereotypes, which perpetuate harmful ideas and ideologies rooted in hate. One of the most ‘popular’ culturally appropriative costumes are that of Indigenous women and girls, who are among the most vulnerable in American society.  

So What Can I Wear? 
Your options are limitless! However, races/ethnicities, heritages, and cultures are strictly off-limits.  

Additionally, any costumes that involve blackface (the painting of one’s skin brown or black) and/or the donning of garments or accessories that have deep meaning for particular communities are unacceptable.  

For example, if your child/student is white and wishes to dress up like Black Panther, Princess Tiana, or Moana – awesome! But no blackface allowed.

Dr. Sierra Austin is a graduate of the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at The Ohio State University, with a focus on race and social justice. Sierra's research (done in our member district Columbus City Schools), activism, work focused on education equity and prioritizes operationalizing intersectional approaches to social change. She offers professional development through the ESC focused on equity, consultation, and community workshops.