Cultural Appropriation and Halloween Costumes

Though Halloween is a fun night, it’s not an opportunity to exploit another culture.

Julia K. Porter February 07, 2019
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It wasn’t until I was in college that I began to think about cultural appropriation in regards to Halloween. While shopping for a costume for a party, I stumbled across a “Sexy Native American” and was appalled. Not only was it a blatant stereotype of a culture, but it was sexualizing a group of people.

It wasn’t until I became a mother of a black child that cultural appropriation really started to be something I thought about regularly. (This is a fact I’m embarrassed to admit). This is something I consider now when my daughter and I choose her Halloween costume.

Though it’s not cultural appropriation in the sense of the example above, I don’t love that my daughter likes to dress like Elsa from Frozen. The reason for my discomfort with this is that I don’t want her to think that beauty is only found in pale skin and hair. I’m cool with her wearing a dress-up dress around the house, but you won’t see her dressing as Elsa and trick-or-treating.

I have read many articles about this topic and cultural appropriation often is in the media when a celebrity dresses like a culture they’re not a part of, but I find there is some confusion when it comes to the topic.

Kay Willamson, an African American woman living in New York City, notes that she isn’t offended when a child dresses like a black character for Halloween, but states that there is an issue when a stereotype about a culture is perpetuated. “Dressing up using blackface, or dressing in a way that mocks a particular culture is where the problem lies,” she says.

I think cultural appropriation is a problem when there is a lack of education when dressing for Halloween. I get it—my kid wants to dress like Moana sometimes too, but making your skin seem darker isn’t the way to go.

If children understand the repercussions of mocking a culture, the history of various ethnicities, and even more about racism to the level that they’re able to understand, these issues won’t occur.

The unfortunate reality is that adults are often more guilty of this than children. Though Halloween is a fun night, it’s not an opportunity to exploit another culture.

So, when you’re deciding what you or your child should be for Halloween, consider this: Will it offend someone of another culture? If so, find another costume.

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Julia K. Porter

Julia K. Porter is an educator, writer, and cultural competency consultant. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught college courses since 2008 and has done nonprofit work. Currently, she is the project manager for Celebrating Cultural uniqueness at Tiffin University. Julia has a passion for diversity and in educating about the nuances of adoption as that is how she chose to grow her family. Julia holds a Ph.D. in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College, and a BS in English Education from Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). Her personal interests include reading, writing, traveling and experiencing new cultures, and knitting. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Kyle, daughter, Brooklyn, and Australian Shepherd, Hunter. For more information, visit www.juliakayporter.com.


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