Halloween, or “Hallo-week,” as it’s celebrated in Greek life, is a seven-day romp in costume, a time when otherwise sane students step out as TV characters, tabloid anti-heroes, celebrities of the moment and perennial favorites like the sexy kitten. As the ever-popular cat ears vanish from store shelves this week and many of us look forward to our first experience of this curious exhibition, it is time to talk about which kinds of costumes should be showcased in this year’s festivities and which should not.

As the “liaison” for my sorority to the Panhellenic executive board, also known as a junior Panhellenic representative, I have had the opportunity, with approximately 30 other girls, to get an insider’s look at these issues. For the past two meetings, we have been discussing cultural appropriation, trying to anticipate and help to pre-empt the offensive language, costumes and behaviors that have too often stained Greek life — and, let’s be honest, American life.

After just one of these sessions, I was appalled, not only because I had now been aptly made aware of how pervasive instances of cultural insensitivity are, but also because it made me realize just how easy it is to perpetuate this behavior.

Cultural appropriation is when a privileged group adopts a cultural symbol, norm or behavior and takes it for itself because it’s considered funny, fashionable or cool. Kidada Malloy, our discussion facilitator and the Expect Respect program assistant, said during her presentation and later reiterated in an interview that cultural appropriation is offensive because “it belittles a culture or identity, in a way that trivializes an entire way of life.” An outrageous example of this was popularized in 2012 when sorority girls from Penn State University wore sombreros and held signs saying, “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it,” and “will mow lawn for weed and beer.” It goes without saying that these girls crossed the line, but where is it drawn?

Malloy made it clear in her presentation that there is no line. It’s impossible to know if you’re offending someone without asking, so you should simply err on the side of caution. She said something as small as wearing a bindi as an accessory, without acknowledging its historic and cultural representation, is likely to offend someone.  

During the meeting, we predominantly discussed the role of celebrity influence in cultural appropriation. Last year, Pharrell Williams was showcased on the cover of Elle magazine sporting a Native American headdress. Selena Gomez performed “Come and Get it” at the 2013 MTV awards dressed in a sari, saying later that it was “fun” to incorporate the culture into the performance. Katy Perry also performed her song “Unconditionally” wearing a kimono, dressed as a geisha. In two of these three cases, the artists apologized almost immediately for their disrespect toward an entire culture.

Malloy deemed it essential to recognize that cultural appropriation primarily happens when people are unaware of how their actions may be perceived as offensive. Malloy urged us to “engage in conversations with our peer community to expand our awareness and understanding of different cultures so that our actions match up with our values.”

In practice, there’s no difference between being outwardly offensive, like those who participated in the infamous “Bloods and Crips” theme party at Dartmouth College, and simply wearing a bindi as a body jewel at your next party. In both cases, you’re offending someone, and although the degree might differ, we shouldn’t be inappropriately or inaccurately portraying a way of life.

One of the more prevalent occurrences of cultural appropriation stems from sexualizing minorities, which is something to keep in mind when trying to scandalize your costume this year. Try opting for a sexy animal or a sexy mythical creature this time around. Trust me, you’d be hard pressed to find a racy dragon-fairy that feels discriminated against, and you won’t be perpetuating disrespectful stereotypes in the process.

With that being said, for this Halloween, let’s foster an inclusive and welcoming environment by opting to wear actual costumes and not cultures.

Lillian Gaines is an LSA sophomore.

 

 

 

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