Soto: A reminder to avoid cultural appropriation in costumes on Halloween

Isabella Soto, Op-Ed Contributor

As Halloween approaches and costumed bar nights and basement parties await, the possibility of Northwestern students wearing culturally-appropriative costumes rears its ugly head once again. We’ve learned to brace ourselves for the onslaught of culturally insensitive and outright racist costumes and, though we are quick to call them out, people don’t always choose to listen.

This is not the first piece The Daily has published in regard to cultural appropriation, and it likely won’t be the last. However, on a campus full of intelligent students, we still consistently have to remind ourselves: don’t wear a culturally appropriative or offensive costume.

I wish I could say I haven’t seen racist costumes on campus. I wish I could say I didn’t have to hear an offensively poor imitation of a Spanish accent from someone wearing a poncho, a sombrero and a fake mustache. I wish I didn’t have to witness someone purposefully wearing a bronzer three times darker than their skin color. I wish I didn’t have to see Native American headdresses being bastardized as part of a sexy Pocahontas costume. But I have, and I’m not alone.

When racist costumes are sold widely and often distanced from any sort of historical context, it can be easy to fall prey to something that looks funny or sexy on the costume packaging. It is important that we recognize that for some people, these aren’t costumes. It’s their culture. It’s aspects of their lives they can’t just put on and take off when Halloween comes around.

Some questions we could ask at NU: Does this costume operate off of a stereotype of an identity that I am not a part of? How is this costume described and marketed? How would I hold a conversation with someone who holds this identity if they come up to me? Would someone take offense if I wear this in public?

We could use these reflective questions to help people on campus understand the forces at play behind culturally ignorant costumes and promote campus dialogue about the sometimes-problematic part of Halloween.

Although the utterance of the phrase “cultural appropriation” often begets eye rolls from the camp that calls calling college students “sensitive” and paints safe spaces as an impediment to freedom of speech, this group sadly misses the point. It’s not about being overly sensitive nor infringing on freedom of expression. It’s about a select few students ruining what is supposed to be a fun holiday for all students. It’s about holding people accountable when they choose to dress in blatantly offensive costumes.

Despite all the conversations we have on this subject and how exhausted people claim to be of hearing about it, students on our campus continue to dress in culturally insensitive costumes. People still refuse to take responsibility for how they may have hurt or offended a person with their costume, and we can’t quit having these conversations until people learn to hold themselves and their costumes accountable.

Hopefully this year students will take more care to analyze their costumes and impact.

As we count down the days until Halloween and scramble to come up with our wittiest, sexiest or simplest costumes several hours before going out, let’s try to keep away from the low-hanging fruit of culturally offensive and racist costumes.

Isabella Soto is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.