Appropriation

Cleopatra costumes, which appropriate Egyptian culture, hang at Party City in Fayetteville. Some UA students and faculty have been urging the campus community to avoid similar costumes that appropriate cultures. 

 

 

As Halloween festivities continue at the UA campus and around the Fayetteville community, thousands of costumes are being showcased leading up to Halloween. Though dressing up is a great way to have fun, various UA students and faculty urge awareness and caution in choosing what is acceptable to wear.

Cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes is a frequent issue that is often prevalent on college campuses. Though often dismissed as fun and innocent, these costumes can have harmful effects on marginalized communities.

Anthony DiNicola, the UA coordinator of cultural communities, recently gave a presentation on cultural appropriation. He defined appropriation as “borrowing a look, sound, practice or custom without full awareness, understanding or context from another culture, especially one that has been historically oppressed or marginalized by one’s own.”

DiNicola said forms of appropriation such as Halloween costumes strip cultural elements of meaning and turns them into trivialized commodities for mainstream consumption.

He also emphasized that cultural appropriation is especially harmful on college campuses.

“It takes away a sense of inclusion and belonging with your peers,” DiNicola said. 

The reason cultural appropriation is so rampant on college campuses is because it is often the first time people from homogenous communities are surrounded by a group of diverse individuals, DiNicola said.

“If you grew up in a homogenous community, you might be ignorant to cultural practices,” DiNicola said. “That’s why we have to initiate conversations.”

As a general rule, DiNicola said to avoid anything that might be questionable. Google is free, he said, and if Google does not answer the question, reach out to a friend, a resident assistant or the multicultural center in order to err on the side of caution.

The Multicultural Center is not the only organization working to educate students on the dangers of culture appropriation. The UA United Greek Council recently gave a presentation to members of Greek Life entitled “Cultures are Not Costumes.” In the council’s presentation, they defined appropriation as when people adopt fashion, trends or styles from a culture that is not their own.

Freshman Ximena Castro said while she has not personally seen offensive costumes being worn, she has seen them sold at stores. Some of those costumes are related to Día de los Muertos, referred to in English as Day of the Dead.

“If they’re being sold, they’re being bought,” Castro said. “Being Mexican, the Día de los Muertos is such an integrated part of our culture.”

Castro said while the holiday is somewhat tied to Halloween, its true associations are with religion and culture.

Individuals who observe Día de los Muertos use the time to feel the presence and celebrate the life of their deceased ancestors, Castro said. Observers do so by bringing food and flowers to their gravestones and photos.

“It being seen as a costume and something that can just be worn for fun is honestly hurtful, because they don’t know how much it means for some people when you have lost someone that you love and you’re trying to celebrate that part of them,” Castro said.

To avoid offensive costumes, Castro urges individuals to put themselves in the shoes of the person or culture the costume might affect.

“Ask yourself, ‘Am I doing this for fun, or am I doing this to respect their culture?’” Castro said. “There’s a difference between respect and having fun.”

Senior Isabelle Escobar shared similar thoughts about the importance of considering other cultures when choosing a Halloween costume.

“It’s pretty simple. If you can think of a costume being an actual person, don’t wear it,” Escobar said. “It’s disrespectful. People’s cultures are not your Halloween costume.”

Escobar specifically opposed costumes including Arabian attire, sexualized Egyptian clothing and dressing up as a “Mexican.”

To many individuals and students, their cultural background makes up a large portion of their identity and expression. Throughout a season full of Halloween celebrations, it is always an option to do research and ask questions before wearing a costume that could convey disrespect and insensitivity.

The Multicultural Center staff is always willing to answer questions concerning diversity education. To ask a question, individuals can visit the website contact page.

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