“We’re a culture, not a costume.” –Cultural Appropriation and Halloween

With Halloween soon to be upon us, it seems appropriate to be thinking about cultural appropriation as we plan our Allhallows Eve festivities and of course, costumes (for the costume inclined). Cultural appropriation isn’t limited to one night a year but this is an opportune time to refocus on this issue.  Several years ago, a campaign known as “We’re a culture, not a costume” started gaining attention and momentum in calling out and interrupting cultural appropriation with Halloween costumes.  It drew a distinction that dressing up as a racial or ethnic group of people is not okay because it exploits people, perpetuates racial stereotypes, is oppressive and thus, a racist act.  The campaign has been successful and is straightforward in drawing a clear line of what is okay and what is not okay.  But what about other forms of appropriation?  How do we know what is authentic and respectful versus what is actually continuing to marginalize certain cultural groups?  What are rules and markers?  Why should anyone care?

With information being exchanged faster than ever before, we’re seeing more and more things being borrowed, referenced, sampled, and yes, appropriated. Everything from spiritual activities, to music, to fashion, to sport mascots, and more. There has been an upsurge of outrage and controversy in digital and social media around cultural appropriation, with differing views and opinions.  So, what better topic to present at DiverseU this year?  Most people want to feel like they’re doing the right thing when it comes to treating people with dignity and respect, but this is an area that can be incredibly tricky.  We think we’re being respectful and we don’t intend to cause harm, but intention doesn’t always equal impact.  So let’s talk about it!

Join NCBI Missoula’s session at DiverseU on Wednesday, November 4th from 1-2:30 pm.  Together, we’ll look at and discuss examples of cultural appropriation and brainstorm how to navigate cultural appreciation in a multi-cultural world.

And remember…please Halloween safely!  Best advice: if you’re not sure if that costume is culturally appropriative, don’t do it!


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