Halloween is approaching, and as much fun as this holiday can be it’s also the perfect occasion and excuse for certain individuals to showcase their ignorance. Yes, I am talking about cultural appropriation.
Not many of us realise how important of an issue this is, and how recurrently we tend to forget about it when it comes to choosing a “spooky” and “fashionable” costume. Your favourite Disney character may be Mulan, you might love the traditional gypsy clothing or you may even admire Frida Kahlo’s art but this will never be enough to appropriate their culture for a day and leave behind their history and context.
Frida Kahlo, and Beyoncé dressed Frida Kahlo images via Nickolas Murray and Twitter
I, as a black person, have entertained plenty of debates with people who don’t understand why cultural appropriation is wrong, and with the excuse of globalisation believe that we should all have the right to adopt the culture of others. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all pro multiculturalism and learning about other social realities besides our own, but sadly this isn’t it. A Halloween costume of a slave is nowhere near educational nor respectful towards the African culture, nor a Pocahontas one towards the Native American one. Dressing up as a culture that has been or still is oppressed is an offensive act, especially if you do it for the sake of having fun. There’s plenty of history and events you’re marginalising by doing so, you’re taking on a “character” for a day and then going back to your rather privileged reality, often, without even informing yourself on the culture you decided to “represent”.
A shocking example is Percem Akin’s 2017 costume, the known makeup artist though that a slave costume was a great idea for this holiday. Surprise, it’s not. The post and video, that
have since been removed, were captioned “Color and Pain”, but let’s call it what it is; a black face. No matter how beautiful you may consider black women, doing a black face is not the right way to demonstrate it. At the end of the day, Akin gets to wash off her makeup, and go back to her own identity and comfortable ignorance. However the real marginalised groups can’t simply wash off the years of suffering systematic and historical oppression. I hope you’re getting the point.
The features that many decide to adopt for a day or two are the same ones that non-white communities have been judged for over the years. The box braids everyone is loving at the moment have always been a protective hairstyle for black women and a symbol of their culture, yet they’ve been called “unprofessional” and “messy” for going to school or work with it. So for them to become fashionable now, for the simple fact of a white influencer wearing them without even knowing nor informing her audience on their history seems a bit unfair to us.
Next time we start discussing and choosing our Halloween costumes let’s be more responsible, let’s take into account other aspects besides looking good and getting that Instagram worthy picture. Because Halloween lasts for a day, but our negligence and careless actions have a long-term impact, not only on who we are but on our society as a whole. There are plenty of costume ideas out there, that are much more scary and appropriate than the ones we’ve mentioned previously, we just need the right will and a bit more of creativity, but we’re certain that we can respectfully celebrate Halloween without the slave look.
Words by Chiara Ferrari