Image by Fotomek
It’s Halloween. That means it’s time for kids to dress up in spooky costumes, knock on neighbors’ doors for candy, and for adults to rewatch cheesy franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Scream. It’s also that obligatory time of year where a particular subset on the internet screeches about cultural appropriation and Halloween costumes.
It’s the same every year, just like every Columbus Day you’ll have Americans calling for it to be renamed and Columbus to be shamed, and every Australia Day, the Herald Sun is full of irate readers under the mistaken assumption it will be renamed Invasion Day when it won’t be.
It can be understandable, to a certain extent. There are certain costumes that should be off-limits, unless there is an understanding between the person wearing the costume and those who disagree. For example, blackface is generally a big no-no. It is reminiscent of racist minstrel shows of the eighteen-hundreds and early nineteen-hundreds, and is a relic of a racist past. Costumes like this should be obviously avoided. That is, unless members of the specific race don’t mind you wearing said costume. Many Polynesians don’t think it’s cultural appropriation to rock that Moana costume. If you wanna wear the bindi or sari respectfully, most Indians will be more than happy. The Japanese love when Westerners share their culture.
The problem lies with the typically white (but not always), firmly middle-class Social Justice Left who are claiming that everything willy-nilly is cultural appropriation. They simply don’t care if non-white people have given their approval for a piece of their culture to be shared. These same people—who are generally intersectional feminists and ardent anti-racists—are racist enough to think they can speak on behalf of an entire race. They’ll ignore the many Polynesians who don’t believe it’s cultural appropriation, because that is somehow “internalized racism”. British blogger Tom Owolade explains it perfectly:
Because inherent in those terms is a sinister implication: ‘if you disagree with how I think a brown person should think, you’re still a n****r’ – a slave subordinate to the interests of white people. ‘If you disagree with me, you can’t be thinking for yourself’ is the message.
Of course one should respect the wishes if many of a specific race are calling out wearing a specific costume as racist. However, a lot of what appears in public is easily-offended intersectionalists who simply want to get offended on the behalf of others. Under their pseudo-religion, they are the ones who get to make the choices. It is similar with how they view any woman against them as against all of womanhood. Don’t believe it? Well, Jessica Valenti has believes all conservative women are puppets of the patriarchy. The same is with non-white people who don’t believe in the culture appropriation brouhaha.
This isn’t a new debate. Year after year, culture appropriation and Halloween costumes is at the forefront of most news media. This year, Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, held a pre-Halloween event on cultural appropriation called “Courageous Conversations: My Culture is Not a Costume”. Members of University of Michigan‘s Expect Respect reminded students to beware of the cultural implications of costumes. There’s the controversy over white girls wearing Moana costumes, as well as one person accusing Elsa from Frozen of being a symbol of white beauty (yes, really) and how little girls who wear Elsa costumes are complicit with white supremacy.
While you should always respect another culture if you’re wearing a costume that depicts them in some way (Moana, Elsa, Pocahontas), outwardly banning them from being worn is incredibly authoritarian. As long as you are not being overtly racist, or dare I say it, problematic (clearly racist blackface, the man who dressed up as Madeleine McCann, etc), then why should there be a problem?
The main problem lies in that it’s Halloween, and many of the aforementioned costumes aren’t spooky in any way. Isn’t the point of Halloween to dress up as something scary? I know, I know, you can’t stop children from dressing up as Moana or Elsa, just like you can’t stop adults dressing up as Harley Quinn or Sexy Vampire for the fifth year in a row. We should be questioning why Halloween has turned into National Cosplay Day instead of the spooky tradition it should be. If you want to be truly problematic and frightening, why not dress up as The Patriarchy? All you need is pair of oversized pants and a Donald Trump face mask. Simple!
Sure, dress up as whatever you want this Halloween. As long as it’s not purposely offensive (like the police officer who dressed up as Colin Kaepernick), what should the problem be? Just let off a bit of steam, eat some candy, and sit down and watch the Scream quadrilogy for the fiftieth time in a row.