Cultural Appropriation on Halloween

It is that time of the year when the streets are filled with children in their favorite costumes and our houses are full of pumpkin pies and jack-o-lanterns! But with delights of Halloween also come dangers of cultural appropriation, especially in the form of costumes.

According to the English Oxford Living Dictionaries, cultural appropriation is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.

During this costume-filled holiday, there are times in which cultural attires are worn as costumes without understanding the cultural significance of the attire to those respective communities. As the holiday nears, we want to ensure that our communities celebrate the holiday with awareness and respect.

So before you choose your Halloween costume, here are a few things you should know:

  1. A Native American headdress has great significance to many Native American communities, as this piece is only worn by those who earn great respect within the tribe. There are various types of headdresses, each made from animals that are significant to these tribes.
  2. The afro hairstyle emerged in the 1960s within the African American communities as a symbol of pride and empowerment during the Black Pride and Black Power movements.
  3. La Calavera Catrina, a popular image of a woman’s skeleton, is the popular icon of Dia de Muertos in the Mexican Culture. Historically, the La Calavera Catrina, otherwise known as the Grand Dame of Death, La Calavera Catrina, was created by satirist José Guadalupe Posada to symbolize the privilege of the rich. Today, La Calavera Catrina has become the symbol of Dia de Muertos, a traditional Mexican celebration that honors those who have passed.
  4. A Bindi, originating from the Sanskrit word ‘bindu’ meaning ‘dot’ or ‘drop,’ holds great significance to South Asian cultures, including those of India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Mauritius. Spiritually, the Bindi, which is worn between the eyebrows, is associated with the third eye in the Hindu religion. Culturally, the Bindi is worn by women to symbolize marriage. By wearing a Bindi, women are believed to hold prosperity.

Of course, these are only some of many other cultural practices and attire that have deep significance to those respective communities. We believe that it is important to understand these cultures and how these cultural attires play a role in their identities.

Northwest Folklife believes in respecting and celebrating the diverse community we live in, and we aim challenge the issue of cultural appropriation through promoting understanding.

This Halloween, we challenge you, our community, to celebrate respectfully!