Opinion: Halloween no excuse for appropriation

Bobbi Szabo

 Recently, college students around the country have gone viral on social media for racist costumes.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison student wore a costume of President Barack Obama to a football game with a noose around his neck. A Kansas State University student posted a picture of herself on Snapchat in blackface with a caption utilizing a racial slur.

Although no instances at Kent State have gone viral, several students this past weekend wore racially insensitive costumes — including Native Americans, terrorists and illegal immigrants — and costumes which were not racially insensitive, but were equally as offensive, like dressing up as a transgender person, prostitute or rape victim.

I recently made a social media post about avoiding dressing in insensitive costumes this Halloween, and multiple people commented on the post defending problematic behavior. I was told racist Halloween costumes “celebrate culture” and “aren’t that bad,” when in reality, viewing culture, race, sexuality and other aspects of our identities as costumes is inherently an issue.

People’s identities are not costumes.

If you are not Mexican, wearing a sombrero and a mustache for Halloween is not only a lazy costume, it is also racist. If you are not Native American, wearing a headdress, war paint and fringed clothing is racist. There is a fine line between respecting and celebrating culture and blatantly mocking and demonizing people of other cultures.

If you are truly looking to celebrate other worldly cultures, buy food from cultural cafes, befriend people from that country, watch documentaries about it, learn the language spoken in that culture or visit that country. There are so many respectful ways to celebrate cultures other than your own. There is no excuse for offensive Halloween costumes.

As a general rule of thumb, avoid wearing anything from another culture as a “costume.” You can definitely incorporate clothing acquired from other countries or cultures — such as a printed dress from Senegal or moccasins from a reservation —into your wardrobe, but do not dress up as someone from a specific culture, if you are not from that culture.

It is really easy to avoid cultural appropriation and problematic Halloween costumes. There are thousands of characters in television and film and countless celebrities to parody, so stereotyping for a lighthearted holiday shouldn’t be an option.

Bobbi Szabo is a columnist, contact her at [email protected].