Halloween brings conversation about cultural appropriation to the forefront

ASU professors and students expand on the social controversy of cultural appropriation on Halloween

21st century America has been a battleground of cultural consciousness and free expression, and Halloween is an all too familiar field of war. 

From arguments over the donning of American Indian headdress to debates over children wearing culturally-charged Disney costumes, cultural appropriation has caused heightened social awareness surrounding Halloween.

When picking a Halloween costume, most do not cross the line of cultural appropriation with malicious intent, but the intent of the wearer is only a minute aspect in a problem that transcends individual transgressions. 

The eradication of this issue will take constructive dialogue and a willingness to listen to the marginalized, according to some ASU professors. 

Associate Professor Rudy Guevarra Jr. from the School of Social Transformation said he sees the issue as black and white.

“The rule of thumb I tell others about the dangers of cultural appropriation and commodification with Halloween costumes when it comes to cultural groups is this: Don't do it. Period," he said. "People and their cultures are not costumes. Regardless of the person's intention, a line always gets crossed that exotifies, objectifies and or stereotypes other people and their culture.”

For others, like industrial psychology senior Logan Gunkel, cultural appropriation is not so simple. America is a melting pot, where every ethnic group can appreciate the best parts of each other, he said.

Despite this, you cannot tell others how to feel, and there is a lot of pain involved in the history of the groups who speak out against their culture being reduced to a Halloween costume, Gunkel said.

“Halloween is an instance where I think the topic of cultural appropriation needs to be a conversation,” Gunkel said. “I don’t think every white girl in a Native American headdress should be attacked. The best way to is to educate in a positive manner, and most rational people will understand.”

People are not sensitive about cultural appropriation just out of spite, but because there is a deeply-rooted, painful history involved, associate professor Karen Kuo from the School of Social Transformation said.

Kuo, whose current work focuses on the cultural representations of Asia and Asians in an American context, said that the groups who are most vocal against being relegated to Halloween costumes are the ones who have been oppressed throughout American history.

"By reproducing (cultures) without a full understanding of their history, you are aiding in their symbolic genocide by letting their societal representation be fake,” Kuo said. “Their (history) becomes elided because they become representations of an American culture that doesn’t include them.”

Reach the reporter at aalmouai@asu.edu or follow @zamurai_96 on Twitter. 

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