What to ask before you put on that Halloween costume

Every Halloween, there are several instances of South Africans walking around the streets in costumes that are racist, offensive or insensitive. It does not have to be this way. With MatieMedia’s advice, anyone can avoid offending the world this Halloween.

Over the past few years Stellenbosch has made the headlines several times for costumes that have gone terribly wrong. With the day meant for celebration around the corner it is best to stick to the scary instead of the insensitive.

In 2017 two costumes were removed from online sales due to their two distinctive problems, namely, blackface and cultural appropriation and historical insensitivity. The first being a brown skinned, tattoo covered body suit of Maui from the Disney movie Moana, and the second being a children’s costume of Anne Frank.

“There are extremely fine lines between what’s wrong and what’s right, but when you have any doubt about your costume, then I’d honestly advise for you to stay away and find something else to wear, because offense is taken, not given,” said Ashanti Kunene, 27, a Masters International Studies student at Stellenbosch University and advocate for black women’s rights.      

MatieMedia decided to tackle the three biggest mistakes people tend to make when wearing a costume.

Black Face

Black face is nothing new to Stellenbosch residents after the infamous #PurpleFace incident at Stellenbosch University. Its basic definition is the act of painting one’s skin to resemble a person of another race. The terms “yellow and red face” also fall under this category.

Kunene warns that people should think long and hard about the necessity of having to change your skin colour to resemble your character. “If you really need to paint your skin blue [to resemble Sally from the Nightmare before Christmas] then you need to choose a luminescent  blue that no filter or lighting can change to looking like black-face. Ask yourself if the potential backlash is really worth it? At the end of the day, if your costume accessories are good enough, most people will realise that you’re dressed as Serena Williams. She’s defined by her tennis, not her skin colour.”

Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation typically involves members of a dominant group making use of and exploiting the culture of a minority group. It can include unauthorised use of someone else’s clothes, religious symbols and food.

Typical examples of strongly debated culturally appropriated “costumes” include the headgear of native Indians, which is a symbolic and spiritual part of the culture which is earned. Another problematic costume item is the bindi, a gem stuck to the centre of the forehead which also carries cultural and symbolic meaning.

“There are many examples like the sugar skulls from Mexico’s Day of the Dead for example, that have become an internationally used symbol. I think what is important is to see if you are 100% comfortable in the knowledge that you are wearing the cultural or spiritual attire of a group you don’t necessarily belong to,” Kunene added.

LGBTQIA+ Insensitivity

The art of drag and female impersonations has always intrigued the world, with shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race airing its 8th season soon. Halloween is the perfect time for people to step out of their comfort zones and to put in the time and effort to embody a different side of themselves.

There is however a line that needs to be drawn when it comes to the reason and intention of the person dressing as a woman or drag queen.

“Dressing up (or down) is an expression and does not necessarily represent sexuality. I am of the opinion that one should wear what makes you comfortable. As long as it’s tasteful and doesn’t mean to degrade women or the drag or LGBTQIA+ community, it’s a yes from me,” said Zilin Ayoki, 35, Miss Drag South Africa 2017.

Halloween is a holiday that doesn’t have to be scary, and is certainly meant to be used for having fun. Just remember to keep it tasteful so that you can enjoy trick-or-treating while being sensitive towards others.

MatieMedia’s top 10 predictions of the most popular Halloween costumes for 2017. GRAPHIC BY: Martinette Hay

MatieMedia’s top 10 predictions of the most popular Halloween costumes for 2017. GRAPHIC BY: Martinette Hay

Follow this step-by-step explanation on how to dress like a unicorn.

Andeline Wieland and Martinette Hay