Culture ≠ Costume

Hey Badgers!

Halloween is right around the corner and if you’re anything like me, you know that picking a Halloween costume is the most exciting part! From coordinating with your friends to trying to be unique while staying within a student budget, we all understand there are so many decisions!

But sometimes, people make questionable choices about their Halloween costume, offending groups of people and looking ignorant in the process. Luckily, we are here to give you the inside scoop on how you can dress-up without messing-up this Halloween!

I sat down with Zanab Jafry Shah, the coordinator of Brock’s Student Justice Centre (SJC), to discuss culture appropriation and how this can be avoided when picking your Halloween costume, as well as using these tools in our everyday life. Zanab stated that “[cultural appropriation] is the uninvited accessorization of someone else’s culture”. That means that you are using elements of a culture other than your own for your own benefit without being invited to do so by a member of that group.

Sounds simple enough; unfortunately, most people don’t realize that they are taking part in cultural appropriation because these costumes are also the most popular to find in store.

In collaboration with Brock’s Student Justice Centre, here are some guild lines for unacceptable behaviour when it comes to Halloween costumes.

Black/brown face

But the character is– no. What if-nope. But I’m not– still NO. Period.

Black face is when a non-black person painting their skin/applying black makeup to appear black/brown, usually for the purposes of dressing up as a black character. In history, people dressed up as black characters in plays to make fun of them and make the characters do weird or foolish things on stage. This is deeply rooted in the history of anti-blackness and racism, and is never, and will never be, acceptable.

Race-Related Wigs (Dreadlocks, afros) and hairstyles (braids)

Certain hairstyles, such as dreadlocks, afros, and types of braids, are only associated with people of colour, and is a part of a racial culture only related with African-descendants.

Zanab elaborated on this topic, saying that “Aside from the immense and resonating cultural significance of styling hair, black people face jail time and sometimes get kicked out of school and get fired for their hairstyles and simply *being black*. For non-black people to try on these styles because we think they look cool is highly offensive and erases the experience of black people in an anti-black society.”

Aboriginal/Indigenous costumes

When non-aboriginal people dress-up in “aboriginal” Halloween costumes, it turns these sacred items into accessories. Aboriginal items all have deep meaning, and all the beads, feathers, and other materials involved in creating these items have sentimental value; many pieces have been earned, giving the person who wears it much pride and honour for their culture. When non-aboriginals wear aboriginal-inspired Halloween costumes, it not only portrays inaccuracy to their traditions and cultures (as you can see by popular “sexy native” or “native princess” costumes), but it also removes the meaning of these items.

Religious People

This includes rabbis, priests, imams, nuns, and any other figure or person pertaining to a religion or spiritual figure. Like stated earlier, if it is not your religion/spirituality, then please don’t dress up as it for Halloween. By dressing up as a religious figure for Halloween, it diminishes the fact that all these people spend their livelihood studying and meditating to earn the privilege to wear religious garments.

“Traditional”/ “Ethical” Costumes

For these costumes, they are one of two things: 1) trying to make a joke out of certain cultures by using stereotypes and elevating them to make the costume “funny”, or 2) claiming that a costume is authentic to a cultural group, when these outfits were never intended to be “costumes”.

Chances are, you won’t be able to find any authentic cultural clothing in the Halloween section in Walmart

Anything related to Hate Crimes/Violence

This includes swastikas, confederate flags, ISIS members, or anything associated to hate crimes. Costumes including any of these symbols diminish the seriousness of hate crimes and try to make a joke about horrible situations.

So as the weekend approaches and you are shopping for that perfect Halloween costume for Tuesday, please take into consideration the message that your costume is saying and how it can impact people around you. If you are ever confused if a costume is inappropriate to wear, use this flowchart as a summary:

Impact may not always be intent; however, sometimes actions speak louder than words.  Special thanks to Zanab Jafry Shah from the Student Justice Centre here at Brock for your help and for providing insight for this blog post!


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