Editorial: Cultural appropriation the norm on Halloween

by | Oct 30, 2015 | Editorial

Halloween is seen as a time to express yourself by dressing up in costume and enjoying a day of being someone else. This has been the tradition for many years: children will trick or treat, adults will party and everyone finds an alternative self for the day. But our tradition is changing. In a diverse community, like Humber, Toronto and Canada, we must be sensitive to the cultures around us and the people we surround ourselves with.

Dressing up allows you to choose any profession, character or idol and represent them any way you like. Unfortunately, many cultures and groups of people are disrespected because of the way these uniforms and outfits are put together. A gypsy costume used to be a common costume for women and children, but they are actually a group of people known as Romani people. They are a culture and have beliefs around their clothing and jewelry they wear, which is often disregarded and ignored around Halloween when their outfits are altered and adjusted, changing the costume into a racial display.

To be fair, many people don’t consider offending groups of people when choosing their costume; they are just thinking of something they’ve wanted to dress up as. But there’s a fine line that must be watched when it comes to Halloween costumes. There are cultures, histories and people related to every costume that must be taken into consideration when picking an outfit.

One of the groups most commonly insulted by costume choice is Aboriginals. Many people use their headbands, outfits and makeup to create a costume. However, think of the oppression and tragedies Native cultures have gone through. Even today we’re facing constant battles with missing and murdered Aboriginal women (#MMIW) in Canada, yet people still choose to dress as ‘Indians’. In times of tragedy this doesn’t come off as anything but mocking the community and tossing their issues to the side for your own pleasure. If you’re going to choose this sort of costume, make sure you’re educated in the outfits and know what you’re wearing before displaying disrespect to a group of people so important to Canadian culture.

This goes for any culture or group: understand what you’re doing. There are many groups, especially in the last couple of years, dedicated to taking a stand against offensive and racist costumes. Even groups of workers have found offense in the often sexually hyped versions of uniforms, especially for nurses, maids, Army forces and emergency responders like police officers and fire fighters. If you choose to use one of these professions as your costume this year, that’s fine, you can decide to be whatever you’ve worked on or thought about all year, but educate yourself. Ensure that you know exactly what you’re representing.

We’re not going to tell you to throw out your costume and change it last minute or bash people dressed inappropriately when you go out Saturday. We just want readers to consider how other groups of people are being represented. If you’re in a teaching program, how do you perceive naughty teachers; if you’re in a nursing program, what do the sexy nurse costumes make you feel; if you’re in the fire fighting program, what do you think of shirtless men in suspenders representing your career? If it doesn’t bother you, that’s fine. There is nothing wrong with not being offended, but you should realize that others are and for good reasons. People have experienced horrible things in their groups and cultures and workplaces and it may be offensive for them to see you dressed as a more relaxed version of what they believe or do.

If you are offended by these costumes, try to explain why this is upsetting. Explain what the outfit means to you and how you use it to be a part of a group or how it matters to your culture. Educate people and maybe next year we’ll see less sexy nurses and insulting Aboriginal chief costumes and more outfits that our community can accept and be supportive of. There are so many choices of costume in our society, there is no need to disrespect the people that make our community, city and country diverse and hurt the people we live and work with. Happy Halloween Humber!