Haunted by Stereotypes

By Makenna Adams

Throughout my 17 years of life, I have remained loyal to my favorite holiday: Halloween. Without fail, I have spent every Halloween season filled with unwavering excitement; flocking to pumpkin patches, decorating my house, and baking themed treats. I have always marked the costumes of Halloween, however, as my absolute favorite aspect of the holiday. Yet, as I have grown older and more observant, I’ve caught on to upsetting trends that accompany the holiday:

Halloween has forever been haunted by costumes that perpetuate stereotypes and examples of cultural appropriation.

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 just 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, it makes unfortunate but perfect sense that they refuse to yield to the demands of people asking for change. As businesses come out annually with 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 then the 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.