How to dress to impress
Halloween - or “halloweekend” as it is known here at StFX - is fast approaching, which means if you haven’t already, it’s time to find a costume! Dressing up is arguably the best part of the holiday; free candy is great and all, but as you age it becomes increasingly less appropriate to be knocking on strangers’ doors begging for food. Dressing up, however, is something you can do at any age. Halloween costumes are supposed to be fun, imaginative, and sometimes scary. Yet, every Halloween, my Facebook feed is littered with articles about offensive and appropriated costumes that are none of the above. So, as you make a last minute dash to the costume store or put the finishing touches on the costume you’ve been planning for months, take a minute and make sure that you won’t be that person this Halloween. To help you out, here are five specific things not to wear this Halloween.
Blackface has been used throughout history to allow white people to profit off of black culture. Though there are probably earlier examples, “Jump Jim Crow” is probably the most recognized - a white man named Thomas Rice painted himself black and performed a dance that mimicked a disabled black man he had seen in the streets. Of course, if an actual black man had performed the dance, there would have been no profit, and it definitely wouldn’t have spurred a movement of appropriated and racist entertainment. So, if you’re planning on dressing up as Jay-Z, Kanye West, or any of your favourite black celebrities, please leave the black makeup or face paint on the shelf. If your costume is good enough, you shouldn’t need it anyways.
2. Any Cultural Group
In 2011, a group of students at Ohio University started a campaign on the slogan “we’re a culture, not a costume,” and if you take one thing away from this article I would suggest that it be this. Wearing someone else’s culture as a costume is never okay. Cultural clothing items hold a lot of significance - for example, take the Indigenous headdress. Every feather in a headdress is earned by its wearer, and so by dressing up as a “sexy Indian” the wearer is stripping the headdress of its cultural significance. Throughout history, Indigenous women have been falsely stereotyped as “easy” and so by representing their culture in such a way, the wearer is also validating the use of such stereotypes, which is not acceptable. The same goes for kimonos or mariachi attire. If you’re not sure about whether your costume is culturally cool, simply ask yourself: “would someone else wear this for a cultural ceremony or event? Is this part of someone’s family traditions? Is there major historical context associated with this?” If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you should probably find another costume, stat.
3. Indigenous People Specifically
Given that Halloween always falls on the last day of Mi'kmaq history month, it is important to put a special emphasis on this. As previously mentioned, certain items of indigenous clothing like headdresses carry a lot of religious and cultural significance. Wearing any ceremonial or religious garb is making light of sacred beliefs. We may not always realize just how much of an impact these costumes make; indigenous advocates from around the world including James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado, are calling upon the United Nations to make cultural appropriation illegal world-wide on the basis of intellectual property violations. According to a CBC report, retailers across North America falsely advertise items as indigenous or mislabel them as so, an example would be "Navajo Pattern Underwear" from Urban Outfitters. The Navajo nation reportedly had nothing to do with the creation of the garment and sued the retailers, settling out of court in 2012. Anaya stresses that manufacturing faux indigenous clothing and by extension, wearing faux indigenous clothing, is non-consensual. Unless a tribe or individual indigenous person has given permission for something in particular to be worn, it is a violation of intellectual property rights to do so and is extremely insensitive to the significance that that garment is meant to hold. All in all, wearing an "Indian" costume as too often they are called, further reduces efforts to eliminate the marginalisation of indigenous peoples.
4. Harvey Weinstein
More than fifty women and counting have reported being sexually abused by Harvey Weinstein. Sexual assault and rape are nothing to joke about: choosing to dress as Weinstein is to make light of an extremely serious issue and glorifying violence against women. In my mind, there shouldn’t be any question about this one.
5. The KKK
I doubt that any of you have made it this far in your education without having learnt about the KKK at some point, but just in case you’ve forgotten, let’s review. The Klu Klux Klan (KKK) is America’s oldest hate group - founded in 1866 with the goal of restoring white supremacy in the United States. The group wore white, wizard style robes with pointed hoods that covered their faces, and carried out illicit bombings, shootings, whippings, and other tortures targeted at people of colour. I shouldn’t have to say anymore. Certain branches of the KKK are still active today, and are growing in number under Trump’s presidency. Do not condone this behaviour by turning it into a costume - I guarantee that you will insult more people than those who find it funny. There are people who are legitimately scared of the KKK and their actions nearly every single day of the year. Halloween shouldn’t be one of them.
Halloween should be fun for everyone, so help make sure that it is and choose a costume that everyone can appreciate. Happy Halloweekend StFX!