Other than the classic sheet-with-two-holes ghost look for Halloween, nearly every costume these days is a potential minefield for backlash. But Mahala Herron has some pretty sound advice for avoiding controversy, specifically in regard to cultural appropriation. “Halloween is coming up, so everyone please remember that my culture isn’t a costume,” the college student tweeted. She shared this alongside an illustration of three figures symbolizing different cultures: One head is adorned in a hijab, another is wearing cornrows, and the third’s in a headdress.
Halloween is coming up, so everyone please remember that my culture isn’t a costume ???? Thank you pic.twitter.com/pL5QOAJCy7
— M (@queenmahala) October 3, 2016
Herron, not the artist, found the illustration on Instagram and reposted it to her Twitter on Sunday. It quickly spread, receiving more than 3,000 likes and retweets.
The tweet was met with mixed reception. Some users seemed to disagree with the message behind the tweet, and others chalked it up to oversensitivity.
— Javier Vallejo (@iJavier1986) October 3, 2016
— Juan Salvador (@hwansalvawhore) October 3, 2016
No lie all races guilty of this shit , we just gotta let bygones be bygones .unless it’s blatantly racist.let it be,Y'all killing Halloween https://t.co/3kjxiLVN77
— Zacquees (@ZaneTaughtMe) October 3, 2016
One individual marked Herron’s tweet as confusing and attached a screenshot of the definition of the word “costume.”
— Nick Nasty (@DamnDatz_NICKI) October 3, 2016
Others rushed to express their belief in the message behind the illustration as well as their dismay that others weren’t receptive to the message.
@queenmahala I hate people that don’t understand that cultural appropriation is an issue
— b (@__baeaf) October 3, 2016
— Heliconia (@sakisunflower) October 3, 2016
Herron was shocked the tweet went viral, but expected mixed reactions from users.
“Personally, I feel like African-Americans face the most cultural appropriation because there’s a thin line in society between admiration for black culture and ‘taking it too far,’ which then becomes appropriation,” Herron tells Yahoo Style.
Cultural appropriation is a topic that people are passionate and outspoken about, especially on the Internet.
Gigi Hadid has been vocal in the past about cultural appropriation. After posting an image to Instagram of henna tattoos on her hands, she was quick to defend her heritage. “& before you go all ‘cultural appropriation’ in my comments, check out the last name. Hadid. Half Palestinian & proud of it,” she wrote alongside the picture.
Many other celebrities have been labeled as insensitively appropriating culture. Kylie Jenner sparked a debate when she wore a do-rag to a New York Fashion Week show last month. Some felt that the head wrap is a staple in African-American culture and offensive for Jenner to wear. Celebrities like Vanessa Hudgens and Janet Gretzky have also been accused of appropriating Native American culture in the past.
Seeing as celebrities and designers are constantly scrutinized in the public eye, the fallout and flak they receive isn’t surprising. However, it sparks a larger debate as to what is deemed appropriate versus what crosses a line to some cultures. It also serves as a reminder to respect one another when picking out your Halloween costume this year. As Herron so aptly put it: “Listen, if you want to be an African-American celebrity for Halloween, that’s fine. But if you want to be an African-American, that’s wrong.”