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Trick-or-treaters miss the mark with cultural costumes

By Haley Jena, For The Miami Student

While parents pose young children in costumes, taking pictures before sending them off to trick-or-treat, college students will put the final touches on highly-anticipated costumes.

Each Halloween comes with laughter and applause alike for admirable costumes - one time my sister's boyfriend was a spot-on Andy Samberg from the "Dick In A Box" skit on Saturday Night Live and I give him credit to this day. However, too often, the holiday comes with several cringe-worthy costumes that cross the line.

The nature of Halloween is a mixture of fun with a twist of its natural scary atmosphere. And, these offensive costumes are indeed scary. With an infinite amount of costume ideas, is there really a need to dress up in a costume that mocks someone's culture when so many other options are available?

For example, take Native American costumes, from a "PocaHottie" to an "Indian Warrior." I know that most people are not purposefully being offensive or discriminatory when choosing a costume such as this, but we should first take a step back and reflect before donning a problematic ensemble.

I would argue that those who don't view that costume as offensive don't think so because they can't feel the burden of the offense the costume implies. They can take off their costume, but a long-suppressed race or an injured victim can't simply "take off" the stereotypes or discrimination after the night is done.

So, at what point does a costume turn from creative to demoralizing?

Consider the alternate point of view. Most who dress up as a native person (or another costume glorifying a stereotype) have never oppressed by society. A white person doesn't have to fear a widespread misrepresentation of their culture in daily life.

Whether done on purpose or not, dressing up as a minority or a victim has the potential to assert power over someone and reinforce oppression on a certain group. Think about it - have you ever seen anyone at a Halloween party dressed up as a simple white guy for their costume? Even if it hurts only one person's feelings, a costume offensive in nature is not worth it.

Would you feel comfortable and at perfect ease in a "PocaHottie" costume in a room with other Native Americans? Dressing up as another race can imply that race is out of the ordinary - not to mention reducing a huge part of someone's identity to a costume that gets beer spilled on it.

A petition protesting that costume supplier Spirit Halloween get rid of an insulting Caitlyn Jenner costume explains, "To make a costume out of a marginalized identity reduces that person and community to a stereotype for privileged people to abuse."

Additionally, BuzzFeed recently published a video of Native Americans trying on typical "Indian" costumes - and not a single Native American who tried on the costumes gave them approval. Their comments ranged from "[The] accuracy on a scale of one to 10 is like a negative 4,000" to "A costume like this keeps Native Americans in the past as if we're not real people today" to "I feel like I need a really big shower after wearing this crap." They also commented on how the costumes were misrepresentative, as genuine pow wow dresses carry meaning with each symbol.

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While the hurt might not be at all purposeful and the intention of the costume is light-hearted, it still has the power to misrepresent and harm a specific community of people.

I'm not trying to appear over-sensitive or accuse anyone of being a bad person - rather, I'm trying to reflect on the perhaps accidental effects of some costumes that can be viewed as offensive on a holiday meant for celebration. So whether you're going to rage this weekend as a cat or as your favorite Disney character, stay respectful and have fun taking advantage of a blessed Saturday Halloween.