Cultural mimicry not acceptable for Halloween: Humber

by | Oct 30, 2015 | Life

Natalie Dixon
Life Reporter

Many Humber College students are scrambling to find costume ideas as Halloween approaches.

But even at a time when costumes are meant to scare or entertain, some are considered out-of-bounds because they are disrespectful and demeaning.

Shelley Charles, Elder Advisor on Aboriginal Relations at Humber College, said First Nations’ traditional clothing is not a costume.

She said regalia such as head dresses are worn as costumes, but in actuality are gifted and passed down in family to leaders, chiefs and healers in the community.

Charles said she hopes the Aboriginal Resource Centre can educate people on why dressing up as a different culture can be offensive.

“Here at Humber College, we have students from over at least 100 different countries in the world that come here to study,” she said. “It could potentially create divisiveness, but certainly (it) is totally disrespectful of other people’s beliefs.”

Humber’s Diversity office has created a poster that reads, “Culture is NOT a costume. At Humber, we DO NOT mimic racial groups. It’s a matter of respect.”

Quazance Boissoneau, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, said dressing up as a member of another culture is inappropriate because such people are not cartoons or made-up characters.

Boissoneau gave the example of dressing up as a geisha, saying the costume choice results from lack of education.

“You don’t know the meaning behind a geisha,” she said. “You don’t know the real history behind it.”

Sage Petahtegoose, co-president of the Aboriginal Student Circle and former work-study student, said it comes from a place of complete disrespect.

“(It’s) not seeing one another as deserving of respect or humanity,” she said of offensive costumes

Petahtegoose said she wants students to ask themselves whether they’d wear the costume in front of the cultural group they are trying to portray.

“There’s also this imbalance of oppressed cultures being, often, on the receiving end,” Petahtegoose said.

Sheyne Blandford, 19, a first-year Fitness and Health Promotion student, said there are a lot of ways to dress offensively this Halloween.

“I think we’re way too desensitized to the things we say, and express and people are easily offended and you should be paying attention to that,” Blandford said.

She said disrespect starts with the sexualization of women through “slutty” costumes. She also recognized dressing up as people of other cultures can be offensive, too.

Blandford said discrimination and inequality are everywhere, which is why people might not think about what they are wearing for Halloween.