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It’s Halloween and You Know What That Means: Stop Wearing Other People’s Cultures

Every year on Halloween we see it: the white girl dressing up as Pocahontas with braids, feathers in her hair and moccasins; the frat guy wearing a sombrero, mustache and shaking maracas; and the Cleopatra get-up with eyeliner cat-eyes and a long white robe. Costumes that stereotype cultures out of amusement and laziness appear every year on Halloween, not to mention long-dead discussions of blackface popping up on NBC and outfits depicting heavily misogynistic and sexualized themes being imposed on young audiences. Donning another identities’ culture for a night of drinking and fun might sound harmless to the ignorant and uneducated reader, but being able to shed the marginalization and discrimination that these groups face every day reveals the privilege and racism that perseveres in our predominately white culture.

Unlike someone of Mexican heritage, the white party-goers with sombreros and maracas can take off this costume and return to their state of whiteness, free of the discrimination that those with darker skin face every day. Wearing outfits that stereotype and degrade these cultures into the racist ideas white people have ingrained in our society with no actual understanding of the nuanced identities one is actually harming is “conduct that presents white people as normal while presenting other groups as exotic … [and] is racist,” as Osamudia James, professor and vice dean at the University of Miami School of Law, wrote for the Washington Post. To make it simple: do not dress up as a minority identity that is not your own this Halloween, or ever.

The conversation can get sticky. Recently, one of my female friends, who is Mexican-American, asked me if I thought it would culturally insensitive for her to dress up as Pocahontas, since Native Americans and Mexican Americans are both minority groups and their skin color is not too far off. However, Native Americans suffered a mass genocide at the hands of white settlers that completely obliterated many tribes and populations, as well as a mass deportation to reservations when white Anglo-Saxons stole their lands and attempted to make them conform to a Western society. Pocahontas herself was kidnapped and dragged aboard a vessel bound for England in her teenage years, where she was used as a pawn for the English and forced to abandon her traditions in favor of Christian values. Combining stereotypical ideas of what a Native American woman might have looked like (putting aside the fact that there are thousands of different cultures within indigenous groups with their own culture and spiritualities) and using it to portray a real-life victim of rape and imperialism is red-face and completely unacceptable. And the “sexy” version of these costumes are even worse, making jokes of the deeply-rooted sexism of a minority group with the highest rate of sexual assault and domestic violence in the nation.

Other ideas for Halloween costumes: a ghost a la Casey Affleck in A Ghost Story, the beloved David S. Pumpkins, a funny pop culture character from your own race (for white guys Napoleon Dynamite, Bob Ross, and Morty Smith are go-tos), avocado toast, a banana, or a crayon. If you dress up as another culture’s stereotype, or a race that is not your own this Halloween, be prepared to be called out and asked why you did not take the time to crack open this paper and skim this article, or why you did and then decided not to care with your smug “the left has taken political correctness too far” mindset. The answer is: you are racist. Be prepared to accept that about yourself.

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