Boston College's anti-racism organization FACES, in collaboration with the Campus Activities Board (CAB), hosted “What Not to Wear: Be Culturally Aware” to educate students about cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes on Wednesday night.
The event aimed to identify common examples of cultural appropriation in costumes, explain why the costumes are offensive, provide alternative costume ideas, and offer tips on how to talk to someone if they have a culturally offensive costume.
Avni Amin, MCAS ‘20, a co-lead of event-planning for FACES, defined cultural appropriation as “when you take different aspects of a culture that is not your own and use them for your own benefit, without really understanding the meaning behind that aspect of that culture and taking advantage of it in that way, especially if you have an identity that pulls from a tradition of power and privilege.”
FACES members presented four common costumes that are culturally appropriative or offensive: Hawaiian costumes such as leis and hula skirts, Native American costumes, Cinco de Mayo or Dia de los Muertos costumes, and black or brown face costumes.
The presenters noted that these costumes, when worn by those not in the culture, are offensive because they fail to acknowledge the cultural significance the costumes hold. Leis, hula skirts, Native headdresses, and sugar skulls have deep symbolic meaning within their respective cultures, and wearing them with no regard for their history is disrespectful.
“A culture is not a costume,” said Amin. “It’s an identity. It’s an experience that someone lives every single day of their life.”
The presentation included a section with models walked out as a lifeguard, a cat, a skeleton, and a ghost to provide easy alternatives to culturally offensive costumes.
Attendees and the presenters then offered a few tips for confronting peers who wear costumes that are culturally offensive. Some suggestions included responding with “dude, that’s not cool,” or starting a conversation with the person wearing the costume to provide them with the cultural history behind a particular clothing item and why they shouldn’t wear it.
The presentation concluded with a discussion about previous experiences with cultural appropriation in costumes and the different responses to such experiences.