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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Blackface and sombreros and headdresses, oh my!

Halloween is coming up in a couple of weeks, and Tar Heels are planning their costumes for one of our town’s favorite nights of debauchery. With this comes a slough of culturally appropriative garb ⁠— blackface and sombreros and headdresses, oh my! People of color everywhere are already eye rolling in anticipation.

So, we thought we’d put together this list to help guide you through the insensitive costumes that you should definitely leave on the shelf. 

1. Pocahontas and John Smith, or literally anything with a headdress

It’s bad enough that “Columbus Day” (Indigenous Peoples' Day) falls only a couple weeks prior to Halloween. Let’s not add insult to injury by making an equally lazy and offensive costume choice. You’re celebrating Halloween on stolen land, folks. That said, the least you can do is leave all feathers, beads, “tribal” face paint, dream catchers and arrowheads out of your wardrobe. 

2. Día de los Muertos, sombreros or a mariachi

Let’s be honest ⁠— “Coco” slapped. We literally cry every time “Recuérdame” comes on at the end of the movie. But like, that movie was great because it gave more context to a Mexican tradition that most people either didn’t understand or thought was on-par with Halloween. Día de los Muertos is about ancestral reverence and celebration, not an opportunity for you to dress like a Latinx skeleton. Also, mariachi is a legitimate genre of music with its own cultural significance. Sombreros and maracas will be snatched if necessary. If you, John, Steve, Mark and Chad want to be musicians, y’all can be the Backstreet Boys. 

3. A Rastafarian, Voodoo queen or witch doctor

First things first, if it involves a dreadlock wig, you can go ahead and scrap it. Across cultures, dreadlocks are believed to have spiritual power and significance, and are not simply a hairstyle. Also, Voodoo is a religious practice that is gravely misunderstood by Western populations like ours. Just because you watched “American Horror Story: Coven”, and thought that Angela Bassett was that bitch (which she was) does not make you an expert on Voodoo or give you permission to impersonate someone who is an actual practitioner. 

4. Blackface

We don’t think we should have to include this one, but we’re just covering all of our bases. Just don’t do it, OK? Paint your face green, orange or blue, but for the love of all things good and holy, PLEASE do not alter your skin color to reflect a pigment that is not your own. If you’d like to know more, UNC has provided plenty of case studies to learn from. 

5. Basically anything that you have to reach overseas for

Chapel Hill has a wealth of culture and diversity, which largely resides outside of the confines of campus, that has been graciously brought to us by immigrant families and our peers. While it is one thing to engage in cross-cultural dialogue and celebration that involves mutual sharing, it is another to make a costume of someone’s culture. Keffiyehs, hijabs, saris, kurtas, kimonos and any other clothing items that hold history and value for folks from outside of the United States are not ours to devalue by making a costume of them. 

6. Other considerations

Not all offensive Halloween costumes are rooted in race or culture. Some other things to consider when deciding what you’ll wear involve body-shaming, mental health or LGBTQ+ identity. Someone’s weight is not a costume. Someone’s mental illness is not a costume. Someone’s gender identity or sexuality is not a costume. 

While this list is not exhaustive, and is potentially reductive in its own ways, the point we are trying to make is that we hope you’ll stay in your lane on the 31st. Cultural appropriation is a nuanced and ongoing dialogue, but we hope that you will avoid willful ignorance by keeping in mind the sanctity of certain clothing, being aware of paying homage versus stealing an aesthetic and giving proper credit (be it monetary or interpersonal) where it's due. 

Whether you’re going for scary, campy or sexy, it’s possible to be creative without being offensive. We can’t wait to see what y’all come up with.

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