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The Halloween season is upon us!

The big question for some of us will be: what should I dress up as this year?

As you contemplate this question, here is some food for thought from Eric Hemenway about cultural appropriation.

But wait, what is cultural appropriation?

At its core, cultural appropriation is when someone adopts elements of a culture that is not their own without having the proper understanding of and respect for the culture. Cultural appropriation can be particularly harmful when members of the mainstream culture take elements from a culture that they have historically oppressed. An example of cultural appropriation is when non-native people dress up as Native Americans for Halloween. Below, Eric explains how this is harmful.

Sacred Elements of Native Culture

Appropriation of native culture often happens during Halloween. The “Indian maiden” or “squaw” costumes perpetuate the stereotype that native women are promiscuous. These costumes are often very revealing and provocative. The Indian “warrior” or “chief” is another disparaging costume often worn during Halloween. These costumes often have fake feathers, headdresses and “war paint.” These costumes promote stereotypes of “savage warriors.”

At their core, Halloween costumes take elements that are sacred in native culture and reduce them to cliched accessories. For instance, many native tribes use real feathers and paint for ceremonial purposes. They are often considered sacred. In fact, natives fought for federal legislation to allow the use of feathers in ceremonies. These laws also protect feathers used in ceremonies.

When members of the dominate culture wear feathers and paint as part of a Halloween costume, it dilutes the sacredness of these elements.

Native Culture is Not One Thing

Often Natives are lumped into one, homogeneous population. This became particularly problematic in the 20th century as native populations drastically declined. Without large native populations to show the diversity of tribal nations, the idea that “all Indians are same” became deeply rooted in American society. This is why most native costumes are strikingly similar even though tribe cultures are distinct.

Pick Another Halloween Costume

Halloween is a chance to be someone or something else for a night. However, we should make sure our choices don’t perpetuate negative stereotypes about and cause harm to different cultures. There are better ways to celebrate Halloween.

Being a Michigan nerd, may I suggest a costume of one of Michigan’s state symbols? White tailed deer, painted turtles and white pines are begging to be Halloween costumes.

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