Wear a Costume, Not a Culture by Shawntal Brown

In 2017, a Phi Beta Phi student wore an offensive costume for Halloween, despite campus efforts to educate students on cultural appropriation. Learn more here.

What’s the scariest part of Halloween?

Cultural appropriation.

Let’s talk about blackface, thug costumes, afros and anything else that a person not of color wears as a costume.

A couple nights ago, I went to Wal-Mart with a friend to get the finishing touches for our costumes, and as we walked down the costume aisle, we spotted an afro wig. The worst thing about this afro wig is there were white models on the packaging depicting what the wig would look like. I wish I could see the appeal to afro wigs, but I don’t.

I wish Halloween costume manufacturers could understand the years of self-love I had to experience to love my afro and embrace who I am as a black woman. Yet, I guess a non-person of color would consider it “trendy” to be a 70s disco dancer.

My hair is not a costume.

Next, blackface — one of the worst decisions a non-person of color could don on Halloween. I cannot count how many times I could read the news or see pictures of predominantly white people wearing blackface for their Martin Luther King Jr. themed parties or their “thug” parties.

One, you could appreciate Dr. King in other ways, such as listening to his speeches that are conveniently found on Spotify, or you could not perpetuate the stereotype of black men and actually be creative for Halloween.

Two, blackface originates from Thomas D. Rice or Jim Crow in the Reconstruction Era. Why would you embody an individual whose intentions were to mock black people because we were seen as inferior in society? To be blunt, it’s not a good idea to revive that time in history.

My skin color is not a costume.

There’s a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Halloween is a time full of creativity and the possibilities could be endless for costumes.

But mocking someone’s culture should not be the default for this Halloween season. If you want to embody a person of color, it can be achieved without offending someone. For example, Miley Cyrus creatively and surprisingly tastefully embodied Lil Kim’s scandalous purple outfit for an award show. But did she resort to blackface for her costume? No. She donned the same one sleeved purple jumpsuit and purple wig, and we understood who she was.

So, when you walk down the aisles in your favorite Halloween store, just remember: my culture is not a costume.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the OU Daily in October 2015.

Shawntal Brown is an alumna of the University of Oklahoma, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She interns at the Gender and Sexuality Center at UT Austin.


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