My Culture is Not a Costume

Halloween costumes in the age of cultural sensitivity

By: Tosin Faseemo


As Halloween approached, many around the country looked for the perfect thing to wear on the spookiest holiday of the year. People of all ages searched for witty, trendy costumes that would impress their peers and garner likes on Instagram.


For some, this meant wearing a costume based on a specific culture derived from a racial or national identity. These costumes create stereotypical knockoffs of real people and culturally important outfits, such as those worn by Japanese geishas and Native American chiefs, for entertainment. Those who dress up in these costumes are guilty of cultural appropriation, which occurs when aspects of a minority culture are taken and used by someone from a dominant culture. 


The most dangerous aspect of cultural appropriation is the practice of taking things from other cultures without their approval. Cultural appropriation harms marginalized groups by commodifying and trivializing their cultures. It takes symbols of great importance and reduces them to mere costumes: something fun to put on, artificially experience, and then walk away from. This is the opposite of cultural appreciation, which borrows from other cultures, but still gives them credit and respect. A cultural appreciator would prefer to deeply educate themselves about a culture, whereas an appropriator would superficially pick and choose which parts to steal. 

Illustration by Emily Jablonski

Illustration by Emily Jablonski


It’s important to understand the difference between a culture and a caricature. An entire identity cannot and should not be watered down into a simple costume created for entertainment. Be considerate of other people and their history.

Wake Mag