Haunted by Stereotypes

Los Angeles County Bans Trick-or-Treating on Halloween 2020 Due to  Coronavirus | PEOPLE.com

By Makenna Adams

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, and my favorite aspect of Halloween is the costumes. I love getting to be creative with a costumes, often making mine by hand, and love seeing other people dress up even more. Yet, regrettably, Halloween has forever been haunted by costumes that perpetuate stereotypes and examples of cultural appropriation. As Halloween rolls around each year, so do insensitive costumes. 

The problem begins with costume stores and their annual stock of culturally inappropriate costumes. It is embarrassing to walk into stores like Party City and Spirit Halloween only to see rows upon rows of insensitive and straight up racist costumes. Considering Halloween is one of the most profitable times of the year for businesses like Party City, they refuse to yield to the demand of people asking for change. As businesses annually come out with these stocks of offensive costumes, consumers are fed year after year the idea that the stereotypes the costumes portray are mainstream, relevant, and accepted. 

What’s more embarrassing still, people actually buy and wear the costumes. For some strange reason, too many people deem Halloween an accepted time for blatant racism and disrespect. Their logic in large part remains a mystery to me, but, as aforementioned, I believe its roots lie in the perennial restock of offensive costumes and consequent adoption of the stereotypes they portray. In addition to inappropriate costumes, some people darken their skin to pose as a black or brown person. Thankfully, many people now understand repercussions of black and brown face, considering its degrading and dehumanizing history. 

To answer the question, “what makes a costume cultural appropriation?” Consider the following: does this costume represent a certain group of people to which I do not belong? Have the people this costume represents experienced a history of harm and injustice? 

Fortunately—and, obviously—countless acceptable and welcome Halloween costumes exist that don’t culturally appropriate or misrepresent groups. The holiday gives us the opportunity to express untapped creativity, relive childhood traditions, and strive for change.  Choosing a costume that does not depict long-expired racial stereotypes helps slow the cycle of cultural appropriation that the holiday unfortunately brings about.