Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation?

Is your idea for Halloween going to leave someone hurt?

  • Comments
Cultural appropriation

Once a year we celebrate Halloween, a day filled with fun and creativity. Many Americans will celebrate Halloween by hosting themed parties and wearing creative costumes. While many costume and party ideas may seem harmless, it is important to stay away from what may hurt or offend others. 

Halloween can be filled with both fun and controversy. For decades, Americans have and continue to debate the legitimacy behind offensive costumes and Halloween parties. While many say it’s only holiday fun and games, others are sometimes hurt and offended by the sites they see. Understanding the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation may help in determining if Halloween festivities may be offending someone for the sake of your enjoyment.


Cultural appropriation is the manipulative use of elements of one culture by member(s) of a different culture. Aspects of a culture may be taken out of context or used to portray dehumanizing stereotypes. This forces the original meaning of these cultural aspects to be distorted or completely lost. During Halloween, this happens when party themes and costume ideas are based solely on cultural stereotypes and distorted views for the sake of fun. What may be seen as harmless fun for one person may be a painful reminder of oppression or simple disrespect to another.

For decades, Blackface was practiced in both pop-culture and halloween to display negative stereotypes about black people. In 2013, a Huffington Post poll showed 43 percent of Americans still saw this as acceptable. In the same poll, 40 percent said it was acceptable to dress up as another culture or ethnicity while 41 percent said it was unacceptable.

Although some people avoid cultural costumes, opting for safer choices such animals and inanimate objects, it is still possible to celebrate other cultures without having to appropriate them.


After Disney released a Halloween costume based on the new Moana movie, many were left with mixed feelings. Polynesians worldwide voiced their discomfort as others failed to understand what exactly went wrong. How can celebrating a culture be wrong? Appreciation of a culture is done by understanding and having respect for customs and traditions. Appreciating culture creates a cultural exchange that mutually benefits all members involved. Your costume or party theme should celebrate and highlight good aspects of a culture rather than showcase negative aspects, which may distort mindsets and encourage stereotypes.

Similar to blackface, pretending to wear the skin of another ethnicity still perpetuates negative stereotypes and dehumanizes a person's identity. For many people, their skin creates a unique identity and life experience unlike any other. Polynesians were upset because their skin and scared symbolic tattoos suddenly became a costume used for play and profit.

As many ethnic minority groups advocate for cultural appreciation during Halloween, it’s more about changing cultural norms to be more accepting and inclusive of all people. Using cultures and ethnicities to make a joke, is wrong. Using Halloween as a platform to showcase your appreciation of different cultures is right and acceptable.

Free speech

Although we all have a right to free speech and expression, we must understand how

our actions impact others. A complex history of discrimination and bigotry in America has left long-lasting systemic disadvantages and challenges for minority groups. In some cases, such as wearing black face or scared native symbols, our costumes or party themes may lead to the continued oppression or stereotyping of others.

Similar to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theatre, there are times when we must limit ourselves for the protection of others. Appreciating, rather than appropriating, cultures during Halloween is one of the ways to creating a more inclusive and accepting society.