Top 10 Reasons Not To Wear A Culturally Appropriating Halloween Costume

Are you working on your Halloween costume, darlings?  I know you’re busy shopping for wigs and whatnot, but take a few minutes to read this terrific piece by Portland’s Freddie Fagula, co-director of  the drag-u-mentary Third Antenna:  The Radical Nature of Drag (which I love).  I’ve reposted from Angry Black-White Girl’s blog–thanks for posting, AB-WG!

While we’re talking about costumes and cultural appropriation, a few words of advice from yours truly:   for heaven’s sake, don’t piss off Screaming Lemur by dressing up as a witch!   As she says in her post Green Skin Optional, “Witches are a big part of the imagery of Halloween…. But honestly? I find it to be as stereotypical and lazy as putting on some buckskin and a feather headband and calling yourself an ‘Indian’ for Halloween. It’s othering, it’s tired, and frankly it annoys me.”  

Actually it sounds to me like Freddie’s piece is indebted to Lemur’s post. If so, it’s unfortunate he didn’t give her credit or acknowledge witch costumes as a form of cultural appropriation.  For the record, that sexy witch pic in my Halloween Pin-Up Girls post is a subversive reinscription.  A-hem.

Top 10 Reasons Not To Wear A Culturally Appropriating Halloween Costume – Please Repost [by Freddie Fagula]

10. That shit is tired and you’re more creative than that. You can be anything.

9. You don’t wanna be “that guy” at the party.

8. You won’t be endorsing a history of domination, colonization, and genocide through your flippant, cartoonish, or stereotypical portrayal of cultures other than your own.

7. People of color won’t have their night ruined by your costume.

6. No one will have their night ruined by your costume, (well… unless you’re like me in fourth grade and your home made zombie make-up gets all over some girls princess dress. Sorry Christy Godwin!)

5. People who you’ve never met won’t take one look at you and decide to avoid the ignorant person who would wear THAT.

4. Your odds of getting laid will be dramatically increased because you won’t have offended half of the people at the party.

3. You aren’t an unfeeling jerk who likes to insult and hurt people.

2. You won’t be asked to leave Fruitcake’s All Homo’s Eve party because you are a white person dressed in black face or as a “native,” a Nazi*, Indian, gypsy, geisha, sheik, or hula dancer, etc.

1. You are an awesome, deep, conscientious individual who understands the importance of respecting the life, experiences, culture and ethnicity of people different from yourself.

*Yeah, I know it’s not technically “appropriating” but please, not okay.

Here is how wikipedia defines cultural appropriation: Cultural Appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It denotes acculturation or assimilation, but often connotes a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture. It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, may take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held.

Obviously, there are many ways to create an offensive costume that may not be pointed out above or fall into the cultural appropriating category. If you’re wondering whether your costume will offend someone than it probably will. If you’re still thinking about wearing it, ask your more thoughtful friends to weigh in on it. I realize this is a multi-faceted topic deserving more attention than once a year on Halloween, but this is as good a time as any to bring it up. 

I believe it’s healthy for people to want to transform themselves, and Halloween encourages that. It gives people a sense of possibility. It’s a creative outlet in a culture of full rules about who can make legitimate “art.” It’s the extra nudge one may need to let go and be someone else. Even if it’s just for a laugh. It’s an opportunity that I wouldn’t want to deny anyone. What I do want is a Halloween where one persons liberating costume is not another persons insult to their life, experiences, culture, or race.

Please give it some thought and don’t be “that guy” on Halloween.


Freddie Fagula

10 Responses

  1. So this post begs the question…What will YOUR Halloween costume be???!?!?!

    Hi Miss Ez, Haven’t you been reading my blog long enough to know that I’m a tease? I plan on revealing my Halloween costume in a separate post, so stay tuned. A hint: you can find it on the blog.

    For inquiring minds, my Halloween costume philosophy is revealed in my post Mirror Mirror On the Wall, which I must admit still tickles me for its campy wickedness. That’s a clue, too. xo SF

  2. This is very exhausting. After wrangling the children into their costumes, taking them around the block for trick or treating, sorting through the candy and refereeing the assorted fights, I just don’t have the energy. Sob. Perhaps when they get older. I’m neither femme or butch here, just frumpy. The good news is there will be no cultural appropriation in my, err, “outfit.” Anyway, excellent article, and y’all have fun.

  3. We are getting married on Halloween and I am wearing a 1940s sailor dress and hat! (tame I know for halloween, but beats the hell out of a white frou frou cakey wedding dress!)… goodness only knows what our guests will be wearing – my drag queen friends are bound to upstage me! I will post a link to freddies ‘rules’ to our guests! Thanks for re-posting! x

  4. so, i certainly agree with the spirit of this, and it’s a good start to a discussion people ought to be having, but i find it more complicated. that is, the entire concept behind costuming is to pretend to be something you are not, which is kind of…appropriating (though not always culturally). to me, it is notable that the examples of culturally appropriating costumes are [i]a[/i] nazi, [i]an[/i] indian, [i]a[/i] geisha, etc.

    saying “i’m dressed as a witch” implies that witches are all the same, and (therefore) relies heavily on stereotypes. on the other hand, dressing up as the wicked witch of the west (the good witch of the north, marie laveau, sarah good) acknowledges variety through specificity.

    plus, specificity is a very important part of “you are more creative than that” (with which i heartily agree)!

    as another example, i am a drag king. but, really, that doesn’t mean i dress up/perform as “a guy,” or even “a cowboy.” because that shit is boring (oh yeah, and offensive). i perform as lee, who happens to be a guy and a cowboy but also has a specific personality and history. those details don’t completely eliminate stereotypes, but it’s notable that every drag king i’ve performed with is different, which i think adds a lot of humanity to the costume.

    or am i just trying to justify?

  5. p.s. i am crossing my fingers that “campy wickedness” is code for catwoman, whose appearance on your blog made my week.

  6. While I understand the objection to culturally appropriating costumes, I disagree with the objection to witches.

    I’ve been pagan for a very, very long time at this point, and I don’t have any problem with people dressing up as witches. Quite the opposite, as I see it as a chance to do (very, very low-key) education. (As in: “Hey, I’m a witch too!”)

    Sometimes I think we take ourselves too seriously and need to lighten up.

  7. The cat women photo really does it for me as well. We’ve had some great costumes here including an orange traffic barrel and two dudes in a cow suit. Halloween is a great time for any GLBT person to come out…if just a little. I’ve got a stewardess outfit. Is that femme or what?

  8. Well, I have a few comments.

    First of all, I’m a feminist, a woman of color, and I would like to think that I have an extreme sense of cultural awareness.

    That being said, Halloween is all about drag and most open minded and culturally sensitive people are not offended by drag. Quite honestly, our whole lives are about drag. We’re always dressing up or dressing down depending on the occasion, and Halloween is no different. Drag is all about being someone you’re not and that is absolutely what Halloween is about as well.

    Anytime we dress up as someone other than ourselves, we are generalizing. Like, ladybrettashley said, it implies that all of the people from this certain group are the same whether they’re Native Americans, witches, ghosts, hockey moms, whatever. All costumes are playing off of stereotypes. Who are you to say that there isn’t some Native American woman who dresses that exact same way? Have you met all Native American women? I think you’re making assumptions just as much as anyone else. Perhaps I practice witchcraft (which is a culture) and I think that people putting on green make up and obnoxious pointy hats is offensive. I doubt you would write a blog admonishing all people who dress as witches for Halloween.

    If I was a Native American who dressed that way, would I still be accused of all of this? Quite honestly, I’m offended that you would assume that ALL people of color would be offended by this costume. That’s quite a drastic generalization.

    I think we all need to realize that people who dress in what you deem “culturally insensitive” costumes are doing for one day of the year in the spirit of the holiday–a day where we are allowed to be whatever we want. Let’s just take a step back and stop taking this so seriously. It’s Halloween.

    But who knows? Maybe I’m just “that guy.”

  9. Thank you. Someone with some intelligence and humility.

  10. Meaning the post above mine…”Flowergirl of the offender”

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