With Halloween fast approaching, so comes the narrative of costumes stained with cultural appropriation and racism. Yes, there are posters hung across the University of Michigan to say costumes like these are wrong, but there still are ignorant people who will choose to sport blackface or insensitive garb that incorrectly represents a culture of people. We’ll see it on the streets on our way to parties and we’ll see it all over the news in the days surrounding the holiday.

Sadly, some people who wear culturally inappropriate costumes don’t think about how it could be wrong. They don’t think about how others react, believing it’s a joke and just all in good fun. They wouldn’t know what it would feel like to be made fun of in a horrific way. Cultural appropriation has been happening for hundreds of years, from Nazis persecuting the Jews to the days when intellectuals argued that African Americans had smaller brains than white Americans descended from Europeans. It still happens today through unfortunate dressing up, cartoons and racist comments, among other things.

I’ve been lucky to grow up in a very diverse town of Black, white and Arab folks, where we learned about one another’s cultures and had great discussions about being respectful to each other when discussing topics like race and religion. I’ve been lucky to be born to a Black father and a white mother, seeing both of my races and what comes along when they collide and mix head on. Other people haven’t had the same experiences as me, being closed off into communities of one race, possibly unable to learn about what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes.

The time to eradicate this problem completely is now. Hatred from Donald Trump and some of his followers and hatred from your neighbor who may have said a racist comment cannot be tolerated. Some people think that making general assumptions is harmless, and they don’t see the fault in their ways or how it can make an entire culture look less sophisticated and misrepresented. We need to be more vocal in our discussion, for all involved to ask and answer questions. Without this, division, silence and racism perpetuate and progress toward inclusion and empathy is stagnant.

When these situations occur, it’s very difficult for the offended party to speak up. Whether the person who feels compelled to say something has been personally attacked or just feels that the costume is flat-out wrong, confronting the insensitive person is difficult to do. First of all, being confrontational is a challenge and can even be affected by factors such as the surrounding environment and the relationship you have with the person in question. As the only Black man surrounded by a vast majority of white colleagues in almost all of my classes, every day I wonder what people are thinking about when I speak up. The situation only escalates when conversation becomes confrontational. The person defending themselves may be wondering where their support is and is likely more apt to remain silent because they feel alienated in their frustration.

If you see this problem this Halloween weekend or ever, please say something. Don’t be silent and allow the ignorance to persist. You owe it to yourself, those who could be hurt and the person wearing the inappropriate costume to use your voice to point out the injustice. It may be awkward, but the awkwardness is worth doing the right thing.

Just like it’s tough to be confrontational, asking and answering questions makes us extremely vulnerable. Both sides wonder if the person they’re discussing with will listen or understand where they’re coming from. For change to happen, we must be willing to take a risk in this way, moving past our fear in hopes of progress. People can be afraid of coming off as racist or insensitive if they ask questions about things they don’t understand. But a genuine inquisition will come through if they ask from a perspective of empathy, improving the conversation of representation for all.

Halloween is dubbed as the scary holiday, but the real fright is racism and misappropriation. This fear digs right into the heart of many and is still a root problem in our nation. Hopefully someday we will no longer need posters explaining that cultural appropriation can happen through costume, but without conversation, we all face an uphill battle. Let our words be as strong as our actions.

Chris Crowder can be reached at ccrowd@umich.edu.

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