Halloween costumes prompt cultural discussion

Shallow grasp of cultural appropriation in costume choice causes offense.


Caroline Sommers/ THE CHIMES

Jocelyn Meza, Writer

With Halloween fast approaching, many people have ordered their costumes or have used Pinterest for ideas. Models wearing dreadlocks, Kardashians wearing boxer braids and dozens of Google Images displaying non-Native Americans wearing headdresses are some of the few examples that have brought light to the foggy concept of cultural appropriation — the use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.

Misunderstanding of origins

Though Biola incorporates cultural appropriation discussions in Resident Life orientation, not all students understand the concept and some fail to recognize it altogether — especially when it comes to dressing up for Halloween.

Gillian McCuistion, senior intercultural studies major, recalls a Hawaiian friend who graduated from Biola expressing frustration in talking with Stewart resident advisors who put on a luau all-hall. The theme decorations included tikis and Hawaiian shirts and were used without understanding a luau’s origins.

“In her conversations with the RAs, she kind of noticed they’re wanting to have pineapples and floral shirts, simplifying it. That was an example for her of how the Hawaiian culture has been misunderstood and made to be something that it’s not or never was,” McCuistion said.

McCuistion has attained a greater sensitivity to conversations about cultural appropriation and situations that fall along the lines of the concept.

“It’s easy, thinking I know more about a culture than I do and being unwilling to listen to correction. I think that’s really important to the process of really understanding a culture,” McCuistion said.

She also pointed out that although Hawaii is a state within the United States, its origins and therefore culture are rooted outside of it because of its location and later addition to the states. Educating oneself of a costume’s actual roots is vital when wanting to wear it and should not be taken so lightly.

Wear it with knowledge

“Wear the costume with the knowledge of where it’s coming from and what the history behind it [is] and the identity that it carries and to carry it well,” McCuistion said.

However, many can be hurt by people wearing a costume that roughly represents their culture. Sophomore business major Caroline Lumnwi from Cameroon in Central Africa admits in taking pride in her own culture and not wanting someone deriding it by turning it into a costume.

“If someone were to dress up as a traditional African from my country who’s not African, it would be very offensive. It’s kind of degrading,” Lumnwi said.

Margaret Blackburn, senior political science major, further defined what a costume is and how it can be used to stress what is in or out the predominant culture.

“If you think about what costumes are, it’s dressing in a way that’s not normal. So to take a culture, making it into a costume is normalizing the dominant culture and saying everything not in the dominant culture is weird or silly or not the standard,” Blackburn said.
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