Oak Knoll School Blog

Cultural Appropriation: Is Your Halloween Costume Insensitive?

Posted by Jennifer Wilson on Oct 23, 2020 9:24:26 AM

Anyone who is a returning member of our community knows that Halloween is a special time at Oak Knoll. For all of our new students and faculty – just wait! From the sweetness and joy of the Lower School parade to the creativity and hilarity of the Upper School seniors’ costume reveal, it is another example of our unique traditions and community spirit.

For some, unfortunately, Halloween can also be a time of hurt and disappointment, when they see their culture appropriated* or reduced to a costume. We know that this is not what any member of our community would want, and so we are sharing some resources that shed light on some costumes that are sold or created nationwide that are not appropriate. This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list, so if you are questioning if a costume not on this list is appropriate, please feel free to reach out.

Demo test (3)

  • Any costume the purpose of which is to represent a culture that is not your own. Some popular costumes rooted in misrepresentation and/or cultural appropriation: a gypsy, an Egyptian goddess/pharaoh, a Native American person, a ninja, a Rastafarian person, a Hawaiian person, a geisha, and Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) costumes. Here is a great video of a few young women explaining why their culture is not a costume.
  • Divisive political figures. Though many of us love to poke fun at politicians with our friends and family, we are in an incredibly sensitive and divisive time with an election coming up. What is an homage or a fun joke to you may represent a valid fear or concern of another.
  • A “hobo.” While this was a popular costume of the past, housing insecurity is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans.
  • Anything that diminishes a disability or is body shaming.
  • And finally, most things COVID-19 related. Obviously, we all need to keep our sense of humor as we navigate classrooms with plexiglass, check our temperatures each day, and go through endless supplies of hand sanitizer, but being able to see the lighter side of COVID-19 is a privilege that not everyone has. This is a sensitive issue.

If you are unsure about a costume, a quick Google search can often shed light, or I am happy to answer any questions. As is true with most things in life, a good guiding rule is, “When in doubt, leave it out.” Just as I do every year, I am looking forward to seeing the creativity, joy, and spirit of our students as we celebrate Halloween this week!

*Definition of cultural appropriation from Oxford Languages: the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. Read more.


Jennifer Wilson is the Associate Director of College Counseling and Coordinator of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice and Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in Summit, New Jersey.

Topics: halloween, diversity, equity, inclusion and justice

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