By Rachel Lee
With Halloween just around the corner, it’s really no wonder that online shops and retail stores alike are brimming with colorful costumes for potential partygoers and trick-or-treaters. Take the Disney Store, for example; the chain’s sparkly website is saturated with a plethora of outfits for little princesses, heroes, and Stormtroopers. Disney often utilizes this merchandise to advertise any upcoming movies released near Christmas; this year, “Moana” costumes have sprung up in the company’s stores. One particular garb allowed children to become the character Maui by donning a leafy skirt, black wig, and muscular brown “skin” covered in Polynesian tattoos. Needless to say, production of the costume halted in the following weeks.
It’s disturbing to see large, family-friendly corporations like the Walt Disney Company use supposedly innocent Halloween costumes to perpetuate cultural appropriation - the practice of “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission” (definition taken from Susan Scafidi’s book, “Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law”). For this spooky holiday, it almost always comes down to privileged whites parodying people of color. Stealing traditional attire and reducing them to a price tag on a website ultimately belittles the rich history behind these outfits and enforces harmful stereotypes of oppressed minorities. Racists have ignorant one-night flings with these whitewashed caricatures while people of color are trivialized for wearing the authentic outfits. This handpicking of the “pretty” aspects of culture while pointedly ignoring the struggles minorities have been experiencing sends a very condescending message: People of color are aesthetic mines, not actual human beings.
To wear a culture’s traditional garb for the holiday, caricatured or not, is to figuratively spit on someone’s birthright before ripping the very skin off of their body and parading around while the skinned, bleeding victim lays gasping on the cold floor. Sounds horrible, right? Yet this inhumane practice always spirals into unending chaos every Halloween.
If this blatant racism angers you, do something about it. Retailers continue to make such costumes only because there are consumers willing to buy them. There are millions of other classier outfits that you can choose to wear for this day, ones that garner laughter or awe instead of hurt and controversy. On the holiday night, if you see people marching around in kimonos or sombreros, call them out. Halloween only comes once a year, and everyone deserves to go home with a sugary smile.
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