Halloween: not the season for cultural appropriation

Alright folks, Halloween is right around the corner, and we all know what that means: it’s time to spend hours in your closet, at a thrift shop or — if you’re feeling especially inspired — at an actual costume store. Even then, we all are familiar with the struggle of finding the perfect Halloween costume. Those hours spent on Pinterest and at the Garment District have long replaced your PS 61 study time, your friendships have become a little tense because someone didn’t want to be the Mickey to your Minnie and it’s all one big, spooky mess. Our advice to help get you through all the Hallo-stress: don’t be that person with the racist or culturally appropriative costume.

Halloween is not a time to borrow anyone’s identity. That means sombreros, kimonos, Native American headdresses and blackface — among many other things — are completely off-limits. While you may think that these costumes are clever, ironically funny or even cool, there is no humor in parodying systematically marginalized groups. Even if it is “just for one night,” culturally appropriative and insensitive costumes only add to the pain of daily microaggressions and reintroduce stereotypes that are socially engineered to hurt and oppress specific groups of people. Just having the ability to appropriate part of another culture by dressing up is a sign of immense privilege, threatening to reinforce and perpetuate the power dynamic that harms systematically marginalized groups. Think before you choose a costume, because if a fellow Jumbo enters a party and sees you mocking their identity while chugging a beer, it can be scarring and only exacerbates a lifetime’s worth of aggression, marginalization and incessant oppression.

So before you pay a ridiculous amount of money for a costume that “was just a joke,” ask yourselves a few simple questions:

1) Is the costume in question racially, ethnically, religiously or culturally based? If the answer is yes, or if you have even that slightest inkling that the answer is yes, don’t buy it. Chances are, that costume won’t be doing you any favors and will most likely promote appropriation.

2) Are you a member of the group that the costume represents? If the answer is no, toss it. Halloween does not give you carte blanche to borrow anyone else’s culture, religion, heritage, gender or identity.

3) What makes your costume funny or sexy? An unbelievable majority of humorous and/or erotic costumes are of regularly marginalized and oppressed groups of people. Again, let it go.

Want a few examples of what not to do? We’ve got you covered. Here are a few don’ts based on some currently popular trends.


  •      Geisha — This hypersexualizes and fetishizes an entire population of women of a specific race.
  •      Blackface — Just don’t do it.
  •      Sexy “Indian”– This disrespects an entire group.
  •      Middle Eastern “terrorist” — This emphasizes erroneously violent stereotypes and mindsets.
  •      “Let’s be Caitlyn Jenner”– Someone’s gender identity is not yours to mock for a night.
  •      Anything from the Latin culture — You are not their “amigo.”
  •      “Pope on vacation” — Remember the third commandment? Someone else does.
  •      Oversexualized careers — Leave that sexy nurse costume on the shelf.

We know this gives you a lot to think about, but consider the implications of your actions — and your costume — on the identities of those around you. Everyone is out to have a good time, and no one appreciates seeing their culture exploited to satisfy the humor of a dominant group. Do yourselves a favor and consider what message your costume may be sending, because being called out for being racially or culturally insensitive is never fun. And while you may have good intentions, your actions will make all the difference. So, this Halloween, let’s all do our best to set a higher standard of respect and make this campus a safer space for everyone to enjoy.

Submitted by the Tufts University Culture, Ethnicity, and Community Affairs Committee (CECA). If you have further questions or want to chat about these issues, feel free to contact any CECA member.

Anna Del Castillo at anna.del_castillo@tufts.edu

Luis Del Rosario at luis.del_rosario@tufts.edu

Amaya Contreras Driggs at amaya.contreras_driggs@tufts.edu

Benya Kraus at Benya.Kraus@tufts.edu