The Dangers of Cultural Appropriation During the Halloween Season

As Halloween draws near, have you ever questioned whether costumes are offensive to cultures you do not belong to? If so, you may be encountering cultural appropriation. Below are some suggestions for tackling this topic with children.


From Tough Jim, written by Miriam Cohen and illustrated by Ronald Himler.


Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation

Cultural appropriation is taking aspects of someone else’s culture (clothing, symbols, music, etc.) and using it for your own benefit without recognizing its historical meaning or prominence. Wearing an Indigenous headdress to a music festival or wearing Indigenous tribal paint on

Thanksgiving when you have no Indigenous heritage connection are a few examples.


Conversely, appreciation is taking the time to understand someone else’s culture, recognizing the collective history of your own identity in association with the culture in question, and maintaining mutual respect. Make sure you take the time to listen to other worldviews prior to asking any contextual questions and try to engage by exchanging food recipes or supporting a local business’s artistry.


It is so important to appreciate rather than appropriate! To appreciate is to address and challenge

a worldwide history of genocides, white supremacy, and racism.


Who is most affected by cultural appropriation during the Halloween season?

While cultural appropriation touches a range of ethnicities, in American society, Indigenous peoples dread Halloween. It is a dangerous holiday for Indigenous folks because by wearing an “Indian Princess” or “Little Native Chief” costume, the wearer is mocking the history of Indigenous folks.


Headdresses, moccasin materials, tribal paint, beadwork, or feathering are all Indigenous

designs! They are not a costume.


What are some more examples of culturally appropriating costumes that are NEVER


  • A Mexican person or Day of the Dead
  • An Egyptian pharaoh or queen
  • Blackface, brownface, tribal paint
  • A ninja
  • A Geisha
  • Gypsies
  • A prison inmate
  • Folks in a psychiatric facility
  • A homeless individual
  • A Hula dancer
  • A fat suit
  • A transgender person
  • A Bollywood star


Remember that all of these communities have been historically discriminated against. Society outcast them and deemed them fit for ridicule. To wear these costumes is to believe in the notions society has fabricated. Avoid these costumes and research if you are not certain why these examples appropriate.


If your child or someone you know is planning a Halloween party, it couldn’t hurt to mention on the invitation that culturally appropriating costumes are a no-go.


How can I approach this topic with children?

The majority of kids don’t seek to offend anyone! Halloween should be a joyous and spooky occasion for all, but also inoffensive. Discuss with children the historical context prior to costume selection and ask the following questions from educator Ray Yang:


  • Is this costume a stereotype of a group of people?
  • Does it hold any historical or cultural significance?
  • How does removing the context change the costume’s meaning?
  • Does my usage of the costume trivialize a group or people?


Yang also encourages kids to do their own research, visit museums (in pandemic times), or have them reach out to someone who is a victim of cultural appropriation. Sometimes hearing a firsthand account can go a long way in a child’s understanding of a foreign experience!


We at Star Bright Books hope you have a happy, healthy, and safe Halloween!

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