The act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.
Halloween has been a breeding ground for cultural appropriation because, for years, children and adults alike have donned sombreros, Native American headdresses and even blackface for the holiday. By using other cultures and races as costumes, trick-or-treaters and costume party-goers are implying those cultures and races are both less than human and out of the ordinary.
...as Osamudia James, professor and vice dean at the University of Miami School of Law, wrote for the Washington Post, 'Conduct that presents white people as normal while presenting other groups as exotic...is racist.'
Culturally appropriative Halloween costumes are offensive because it reduces a culture to, well, a literal costume—one that certain groups of people can take off, but others live with every day.
In the days leading up to Halloween, NBC's Megyn Kelly questioned why blackface, in particular, is considered racist on Halloween. The Hill's Aris Folley reports:
'But what is racist?' Kelly said Tuesday morning. 'You truly do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface at Halloween or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween.'
'Back when I was a kid, that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as like a character,' Kelly continued.
Kelly cited "Real Housewives of New York" star Luann de Lesseps's Diana Ross outfit as an example of misplaced claims of racism. De Lesseps reportedly used makeup to darken her complexion.
'People said that was racist and I don’t know, I felt like, who doesn’t love Diana Ross? She wanted to look like Diana Ross for one day. I don’t know how that got racist on Halloween,' Kelly said Tuesday.
Kelly received immediate backlash for her comments. Blackface, in particular, carries a painful history and to disregard that is a testament to the ignorance still running through the country, Kelly included.
Blackface and the codifying of blackness— language, movement, deportment, and character—as caricature persists through mass media and in public performances today. In addition to the increased popularity of 'black' Halloween costumes, colleges and universities across the country continue to battle against student and professor blackface performances. In each instance, those facing scrutiny for blackface performances insist no malice or racial hatred was intended.
Kelly's comments are the perfect example. According to Kelly, the Diana Ross costume, and others like it, are acceptable because they act as homages to public figures that people collectively look up to. What Kelly doesn't understand is that by turning those individuals or groups into costumes, regardless of intent, the dress immediately "others" the subject of the costume, which does indeed fuel racism and stereotypes.
Many people struggle on where to draw the line. Over the last several years, Hollywood has had a number of blockbusters that feature people of color as main characters (although the industry still has a long way to go), T'Challa from "Black Panther" and Moana to name a few. Some parents argue their child's race should not dissuade him or her from dressing up as these heroes for Halloween—just because T'Challa is the king of a fictional African nation and Moana is a Polynesian princess.
The New York Times's Kwame Opam surveyed a number of parents on the topic. Many said that white children should not shy away from fictional characters that represent other cultures and races, arguing that doing so would also send the message that these costumes and people are somehow "exotic or abnormal." According to Katrina Jones, the director of human resources at Vimeo:
'When I look at it, I see no reason why a kid who’s not black can’t dress like Black Panther. Just like our kid who’s not white dresses up like Captain America. I think the beautiful thing about comics is they do transcend race in a lot of ways.'
Mary Dimacali, 29, a social media and marketing manager in Rockland County, New York, echoed that idea...'For a white kid to be so open and judge based on the character’s story and the personality and history, I think that’s what’s important,' she said.