Drawing the line between cultural appropriation, appreciation in Halloween costumes

Shae Slaughter

Halloween is here, and you know what that means? Candy corn, pumpkins and children dressing up in racist costumes from other cultures. Wait, what? Over the last few years, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of arguments made against certain types of Halloween costumes, and while I understand and appreciate some of the points made, I also think that some of these ideas could equate to more harm than good.

A popular costume this year is the Disney character Moana, a Polynesian teenager who goes on a quest to explore the sea and help out her community. The movie is filled with lovable characters, catchy songs and beautiful animation. An added bonus comes from the fact that the story is based on Polynesian mythology, according to IMDb. I’m 21 years old, and I thought the movie was awesome. What’s not to love? 

Unfortunately, not everyone shares this mindset. I have seen many arguments from mothers urging other mothers not to let their specifically “white” children dress up as Moana because it is cultural appropriation. Many people think that doing this would be racially insensitive, but in certain circumstances, I am inclined to disagree. 

Before explaining why, I want to make it clear that I am not writing this to condone dressing up in costumes from other cultures if your only aim is to mock them. I don’t at all agree with the use of blackface or Halloween City costumes like a “sexy geisha.” But what about the people, particularly children, who admire these figures from other cultures?

Of course, being white doesn’t mean that you cannot admire a character like Moana. I think that we can all agree on that. A young girl who wants to dress up like Moana is likely only doing so because she thinks that the character is awesome, inspiring and fun. In a situation like that, what does race/culture have to do with it? Does that also exclude little Polynesian girls from dressing up as Disney’s Elsa, too? 

The character Elsa, though fictionally based, is from Norway, which means that she has culture, too, Norwegian culture, according to E! News. If we use the same argument we make with Moana, that means that children from the U.S. shouldn’t dress up as Elsa, either. The same goes for Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” which takes place in France. Everyone has culture, including Disney princesses, which is something that should be inclusive and not divisive. 

I remember when I was little, I had an assignment in school where I was tasked with dressing up as a famous person from Michigan. I picked Diana Ross, the lead singer of The Supremes, because I adored her. I knew every word to her songs, so I wanted to share her life and her music with my classmates. I didn’t do it because I was trying to appropriate Motown culture; I just wanted to bring awareness to it.

I appreciate that people are trying to be racially sensitive. It’s something our country has been missing for a long time, but that being said, where do we draw the line? Culture is important, but we don’t want to tell these children that you can’t bridge the gap between two cultures. Little girls pick costumes like Moana because they’re thinking about how cool the character is, not because they’re trying to be inconsiderate or offensive.

I certainly wouldn’t want someone to be offended by these costumes, but I want people to realize that Halloween costumes don’t have to be some huge attack on cultural differences. After all, when else will you see Polynesian culture so widely displayed? I think it’s awesome that young people aren’t stuck on being Cinderella anymore. That being said, let’s celebrate that kids just want to identify with fun, strong characters like Moana this Halloween and give them some candy. Trick or treat, anyone?