For many, Halloween is the one night of the year where people can live out their wildest, spookiest fantasies and pretend to be whoever they want, whether that be a superhero, wicked witch or zombie.
But some people aspire to dress as other individuals, wearing costumes that imitate different races and cultural traditions. It’s common to see the guy on TV wearing a massive sombrero and a thick mustache holding a bottle of tequila attempting to look Mexican. It’s the embodiment of cultural appropriation, or the act of taking items from another culture without any knowledge of or respect for that culture.
“At music festivals, people wear a lot of, not just Bohemian outfits but different tribal outfits while they don’t understand the culture and history behind it, and they think it’s OK,” Plattsburgh State senior Amber Cruz, who views cultural appropriation as a form of disrespect, said.
Cruz, a political science major, said there’s nothing wrong with costumes but when people choose to wear pieces such as a sombrero, maracas and mustache, it’s wrong if they don’t know the significance behind these items. It’s the difference between cultural appreciation from cultural appropriation.
“You can celebrate someone’s culture without having to offend them,” Cruz said.
Cruz recalled her first Halloween at PSUC, where a student she knew dressed as a Native American wearing moccasins, her hair in braids, a headband with a feather and a brown suit.
Cruz admitted to liking her costume freshman year but realized how offensive it was during her sophomore year when she learned of the term cultural appropriation.
“It’s not right because you’re not being empathetic toward [their] struggles within this country and being Native American in this country.” Cruz said.
Serving as a vice president for PSUC’s Inter-Sorority Association (ISA), Cruz asserts PSUC’s Interfraternity Conference recognizes cultural appropriation as a campus issue and has some policies in place to address it.
The ISA held a delegate meeting last year before Halloween, where they outlined the definition of cultural appropriation and presented a slideshow demonstrating which Halloween costumes sisters are required to deviate from according to Cruz.
Religious costumes such as devil, angel, and nun; profession costumes such as “CEOs and office h**s”; and culturally appropriated costumes such as Native American and Mexican or Latino are among those prohibited.
Other clubs and organizations acknowledge cultural appropriation during Halloween as a campus issue as well. PSUC junior Essence Hightower, a sociology major, recalled learning the official term for offensive costume wear her freshman year at a Black Onyx meeting where they held a forum discussing this topic.
“It’s so interesting because now my friends and I are much aware of our costume ideas because we don’t want to be offensive,” Hightower said.
Essence and Cruz acknowledged some people are genuinely unaware of the offense they cause when wearing such costumes, proving that one root of cultural appropriation, like with many other issues, is the lack of education surrounding the issue.
“I think sometimes people don’t consider cultural appropriation as a real issue,” Hightower said. “But it’s not seen as a costume in their society. It’s something that’s a part of who they are, so essentially you would be mocking them.”
Cruz and Hightower both agree that education is key to combating this issue and avoiding wearing an offensive costume.
A first step is, “educating yourself on your costume prior to buying it and realizing why you want to be that for Halloween,” Hightower said. “If you want to dress as any type of ethnic person, you want to make sure you know the history behind it.”
=Hightower personally views Youtube as an excellent tool to learn what is and what isn’t OK to wear for a Halloween costume. Some inoffensive costumes include superhero characters, skeletons and even public figures such as Donald Trump are fair game.
PSUC junior Edward Lopez, an information technology major, believes the solution to this problem, as with many other issues, starts with wanting to be a part of the solution.
“Look out for events. Don’t be afraid to pop out,” Lopez, rush chairman of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, said. “We’re all a part of this community, and we all deserve to be here.”
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