‘My Culture is Not a Costume:’ Avoiding cultural appropriation this Halloween

Students from the Honors for Diversity group discuss the lines between cultural appropriation and appreciation through pop song music videos and social media posts. (Eric Wang/ The Daily Campus)

Student organization Honors for Diversity (H4D) hosted a presentation titled “My Culture is Not a Costume” in the Student Union on Oct. 24, which centered on the topic of cultural appropriation and its significance this time of year.

The club aims to “celebrate, empower and unify members of minority groups within the student body and in doing so, emerge as a positive, diverse community.”

Physiology and neurobiology major Faith Okifo gave the presentation. With Halloween coming up, the presentation stressed the importance of understanding what counts as cultural appropriation when choosing a costume.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or misuse of elements of one culture by members of another culture, typically for the purpose of entertainment. It is an oversimplification that is based on a surface-level understanding of the culture and typically revolves around stereotypes. When people imitate a culture, they imitate superficial aspects of it such as clothes, religious garments, makeup and hair. The problem with this is that it’s not possible to put on that culture’s history, persecution, discrimination or loss. A costume is temporary while a culture is not.

The presentation stressed the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Cultures are meant to be shared, not borrowed, Okifo said. Cultural appreciation differs from appropriation in that it makes an effort to understand the culture and pay respect to it. Rather than focus on stereotypes or mock a culture, it instead empowers the culture by trying to gain a better understanding of it.

This is an important distinction to make this Halloween, Okifo said. In general, you should never wear a culture as a costume. Dressing up in a sombrero, poncho, and mustache for Halloween and calling yourself a Mexican is offensive to that culture and, again, is based entirely off of stereotypes, Okifo said.

“It’s important to take the moment to understand other cultures and how your simplification of a culture can be viewed as offensive,” Okifo said.

If your Halloween costume involves dressing up as a famous character or person of another race or ethnicity, it is important not to make yourself look like that race, Okifo said. The person you are trying to emulate likely has a specific way of dressing or an iconic hairstyle that will be easily recognizable, allowing you to make an effective costume without being offensive.

Additionally, Okifo said that costumes that generalize or mock an entire culture, such as dressing up as a Native American or in a Kimono, should be avoided.

“It’s really beneficial that students talk about these issues and have conversations like these, so we can talk about solutions to these problems and be more understanding of other people,” management major Elizabeth Turner said.

Halloween is meant to be an enjoyable holiday where people get to spend the night dressing up in fun costumes. So before you head out with friends, take a moment to make sure your costume won’t be offensive.

If you’d like to find out more about the Honors Diversity Club, you can follow them on Instagram at @uconnh4d.


Courtney Gavitt is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at courtney.gavitt@uconn.edu.