Halloween, paying homage or appropriating?


Andre Gary-Mack, Opinion Editor (He/him)

Cultural appropriation is something that has infiltrated society with the help of mainstream culture and social media.

This is the season to display our most creative sides through costume and traditions, but there most certainly is a difference between paying homage to a culture and their traditional attire and cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is defined as the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices and ideas of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. For example, any of the Kardashian women wearing cornrows in their hair. While some may argue that it is just hair, it is more about the history behind the hairstyle and why them wearing something like that is more offensive than paying homage.

For Halloween, these lines can be blurred. It is difficult to understand where something becomes offensive and how we appropriate a costume.

According to Kas Williams, South Dakota State University’s chief diversity officer, education is the key to understanding what is culturally appropriate and what is offensive.

“It starts with saying hello and getting to know someone,” she said regarding what can be done on campus to change the narrative.

Take the ever so popular “Indian Chief” costume worn for decades by many people, from kindergartners in a school play or classroom Halloween party to Cher and the Village people on stage.

SDSU is a land grant university with a deep rooted Native American student population. So why is dressing as Pocahontas, Indian Brave or Big Chief problematic? Some people wear these costumes out of naiveté and others in blatant disregard, disrespect and irreverence.

“Sometimes [you] get a pass. But to say [you] did not know, especially when we are in 2020 when there is too much education and knowledge out there, is no longer an excuse,” Williams said.

Making a mistake and painting  yourself in black face as a white student wanting to be Obama for Halloween is not acceptable, but can be forgiven the first time. Maybe. When you do it a second time, it’s deliberate.

If you want to dress up or represent another culture for Halloween, do your homework. Understand why the Hispanic and Latino community paint their face or wear masks like Careteas. Know the symbolism behind a Native American chief and why they wear a headdress. We are living in a racially sensitive society and political unrest right now.

It is important now more than ever to really understand one another.