Political Correctness and Cultural Appropriation Panic Are Killing Halloween

College campuses must stop humoring the idea that offensive costumes should be banned.


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Australian actor Chris Hemsworth is very sorry for dressing up as Native American.

"I was stupidly unaware of the offense this may have caused and the sensitivity around this issue," he recently wrote on Instagram. "I sincerely and unreservedly apologize to all First Nations people for this thoughtless action."

For those who think they were owned an apology, it's actually overdue: Hemsworth donned the offensive costume at a New Year's Eve party last year. But now he's apparently more enlightened about how cultural appropriation further marginalizes oppressed communities—like the people at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. And he's not alone: actress Hillary Duff just apologized for this year's offensive couple costume—Duff and her boyfriend celebrated the holiday this weekend as a Native American and a Pilgrim.

Anyway, I'm still waiting for Hemsworth to issue an apology for a much more significant and repeated act of cultural appropriation: his portrayal of the Norse god Thor in the Marvel movies of the same name. Hemsworth has donned a Thor costume for four separate films, raking in millions of dollars each time. These movies shamelessly appropriate and exploit Norse mythology—the religious traditions of the people of medieval Scandinavia—for profit. Hemsworth claims Germanic heritage, but there's no way to prove his ancestors actually worshipped the gods he claims to represent. And in any case, he lent credibility to a film produced by many non-Germanic people, starring many non-Germanic people, and consumed by many non-Germanic people.

Indeed, if we believe in the doctrine of cultural appropriation—that it is wrong to portray or engage in traditions that disparage a culture, or pertain to a culture other than one's own—then all Halloween costumes are offensive, because Halloween was itself appropriate from Irish culture. As Jason Brennan wrote at Bleeding Heart Libertarians:

A year ago, lecturer Erika Christakis wrote an email criticizing Yale's attempt to control students' Halloween costumes. Christakis suggested that students, as adults, are capable of policing themselves, that the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable costumes is contestable, and that Halloween is holiday meant to allow people to indulge in certain transgressions. Students harassed her until she left her job. You can watch here as a mob of students at Yale University surrounded her husband, Nicholas Christakis, to browbeat him into submission after he stood up for Erika.

What's ironic about all of this is that almost all of these Yale students, though desperate to prevent racist and insensitive cultural appropriation, would later go on to engage in insensitive, racist cultural appropriation themselves, as they have done year after year since early childhood.

Let's be clear: Halloween is for Irish people and for Irish people only. Or, more precisely, it's for people who are of sufficiently robust Gaelic descent. If you are not Irish, but you celebrate Halloween, then you are engaging in racist cultural appropriation.

Brennan points this out, I presume, not because he actually wants to discourage people from celebrating Halloween, but because he wants them to understand how completely illogical the entire notion of cultural appropriation is. Everybody steals from other cultures all the time. It's natural and impossible to avoid.

Unfortunately, the campus far-left has become obsessed with the idea that cultural inter-mixing is a bad thing. Lately, students have decided that university administrators should discourage cultural appropriation, or prohibit it outright—especially on Halloween. Campus after campus has released guides, warnings, or outright bans on "offensive" costumes. Administrators are now telling students to file reports if see someone engaging in act of cultural appropriation.

As I wrote in a recent column for The Daily Beast:

Take Tufts University, where student-leaders of Greek life on campus are particularly worried about costume-related sanctions. They have good reason to be concerned: the university is watching.

"We encourage all students that feel like they have encountered someone who is wearing an inappropriate and offensive costume to please file a report," said Dean of Students Mary Pat McMahon, according to a letter sent to the Greek community. ..

Greek leaders would like to err on the side of caution—how's that for Halloween spirit?—and have asked members of their community to eschew "inappropriate, offensive, and appropriative costumes." Cultural appropriation—dressing up like someone from a different race—is especially frowned upon. But that's not all: costumes "relating to tragedy, controversy, or acts of violence" are also frowned upon.

One wonders what's left. Many students who heed the above guidelines are presumably restricted from dressing up as samurais, hombres, geishas, belly dancers, Vikings, ninjas, rajas, French maids, Bollywood dancers, Rastafarians, Pocahontas, Aladdin, Zorro, or Thor.

Garden-variety Halloween costumes—vampires, zombies, etc.—would seem to run afoul of the prohibition on "tragedy and acts of violence." And this year's topical costumes—Harambe, Cecil the Lion, Donald Trump—invoke controversy, so they're out, too. …

I can understand why students might take offense at blackface, which has a specific, racist historical context. But there's nothing intrinsically evil about pretending to be someone else for one day of the year, especially if the costume isn't intended to disparage or mock anyone's ethnicity. Shouldn't the default position of an enlightened populace be that culture is fluid and belongs to no one, that we are all individuals with the license to explore our interests, and that everyone should be encouraged to briefly appropriate the most interesting aspects of any culture to which they are drawn?

Today is probably the last day for Halloween parties, costumes, and activities until next year. But lest we forget: cultural appropriation arguably gained power as a sacred doctrine of campus censors in 2016 (even though 2015 was really awful on that front, too). At this rate, colleges might just kill off Halloween entirely.