Spooky season! Carving pumpkins, sipping the seasonal coffee flavors, and putting on a costume as someone other than yourself. It seems that on one night of the year, people can dress up however they want, and no one can have an opinion about it…wrong! In regards to how open people are about wearing the least possible clothing or going all out from the face makeup to the costume design, the true issue lies in the stores from where we purchase our costumes.
Halloween comes once a year but the racial discrimination people face from this holiday is not seasonal. What the public may not be aware of are the constant stereotypes or set images of particular cultures, in the form of costumes, which are still manufactured and sold in a Halloween store today.
Spirit, the number one Halloween store that sprouts as the first fall leaves crunch under our shoes, is an example of a company that commercializes the culture of minorities groups by members of the dominant culture.
Meager acts of playing dress-up and becoming someone different from your ethnicity is not tolerable, even if it is for one night. Traditional clothing loses its importance, respect, and significance; to the extent where companies sexualize them to become a “sexier” version, which undervalues the culture, heritage, and lifestyle of individuals. One example of a targeted culture and ethnic group that falls prey to the costume industry is Native Americans.
Looking at the store website, I found that the traditional regalia of Native Americans was made for the general public. To be considered a “Native,” your choice of attire are a low-cut dress, a headdress, bows & arrows, and moccasins. Costumes boil down an entire culture, both vast and unique, into a simple conversation starter at a Halloween party. These accessories push back Native Americans to a deeply rooted time period of violence, an era associated with the oppression and attempted elimination of indigenous people.
An indigenous person today should not be defined by the stereotypical characteristics enforced by society, especially on a mediocre holiday. Native Americans are not the only groups targeted: Hispanics, African-Americans, and Arabs are some of the most common victims––where their accessories which are meant for cultural or religious practices, are used to provoke laughter. A costume meant to illustrate what a particular person looks like is cultural appropriating the valuable aspects of that culture.
Besides Spirit, Disney–an international entertainment industry–depicts the wrong and racist representation of cultures. Nearing Halloween, one can expect to see a wall dedicated to costumes representing the fictional characters in the latest Disney productions. Although Disney has done a great service to increase inclusivity in their movie franchise, they provide a disservice in reinforcing stereotypes through selling costumes that only backfire their intentions.
Taking the films: Pocahontas, Aladdin, and Moana, the release of the movies resulted in the widespread release of the fictional character’s costumes. Specifically with the princesses and their cultural clothing. The way media entertainment has historically depicted people and culture has morphed into this massive cultural appropriation with a price tag on it.
Systematically oppressed groups are not meant to be celebrated by adopting their culture through commercial intentions but through recognition of their struggles. Next time you are about to go dancing with friends to the song Monster Mash, think about what your costume means to others. Halloween can be a time for dressing up, but it also can be a time for fighting against discrimination.