Voodoos and Don’ts: an intersectional guide to Voodoo Fest costumes

As the bayou weather turns to a pseudo fall, candy sales go through the roof, and midterms come to an end, New Orleanians and students across the city’s campuses prepare for Halloween celebrations.

In New Orleans, Halloween weekend is not exclusively for trick-or-treating or visiting haunted houses. When this widely-celebrated holiday nears, it also means Voodoo Music + Arts Experience is around the corner.

With Voodoo always falling near or on Halloween, festival attendees not only expect a great line up, but also great costumes.   

The festivities that come with the end of October are not always cause for celebration. For many people with targeted identities, this time of the year can bring anxiety and fear of microaggressions and appropriation, as others take their cultures and wear them as costumes.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or colonization of important symbols or parts of a culture by a member of a separate, oftentimes dominant, culture. Many music festivals are spaces for creative fashion ideas and trends. Many of the most popular styles at festivals, however, have been more culturally appropriative than innovative.

Though discussion of proper festival attire has been ongoing for years, many are still confused or unconvinced that cultural appropriation exists or matters. This guide will help debunk some myths about appropriation and proper festival behavior to help make this holiday weekend smooth and comfortable for people of all identities.

Voo-Don’t: Accessorize with a Native American headdress, a Dashiki or other cultural symbols.

Many festival attendees try to boost their aesthetic by using important symbols of other cultures to add color or make a statement with their outfits. Many may not know, however, that these fashion choices may have harmful effects. The privilege of wearing a headdress, for instance, is something earned over time and seen as a high honor in different indigenous North American cultures. By wearing a headless, concertgoers may not only co-opt someone else’s culture, but also risk being disrespectful of the value of earning such a distinction.

Dashikis might be worn by people outside African cultures for the artistic appeal, but African-Americans in the Civil Rights Movement wore them as a form of resistance against white supremacy and to highlight their own cultural wealth. Since dashikis have historically been symbols of resistance against European conformity and have been used as alternatives to Eurocentric standards of fashion and beauty, when non-black people wear the garment, the original contention is contradicted.

Voo-Do: Go for a funny or unique costume.

Many Voodoo attendees come in daring and extravagant costumes for the weekend. Make the most of the opportunity by dressing as your favorite meme, super-villain, television character, animal, plant or literally anything else other than someone else’s culture.

This does not mean you cannot dress as someone like Storm from X-Men or rock any of Beyonce’s signature video looks if you aren’t black. Dressing as someone of another race is totally appropriate, but using stereotypes or cultural dress to create a costume is not.

Voo-Don’t: Wear blackface (or brownface or yellowface).

Frederick Douglass said it best when he described blackface performers as “the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizens.”

The problem with blackface, as with other forms of cultural appropriation, is that the target group from which the culture originated faces social, economic and legal persecution for displaying their culture (or skin tone), but others are able to use and throw it away as they please with few consequences.

This is not a rule reserved for people of a certain race or ethnicity. It’s wrong for anyone to do blackface, even black people themselves. Zoe Saldana, who is Afro-Latina, was cast to play Nina Simone in the biopic, Ninawas met with backlash when she darkened her skin for the role.

Voo-Do: Stay open and respectful.

 No one is perfect, and if there is a problem with any of your costumes this Halloween season, all you can do is apologize and learn from your mistakes to make next Halloween season an even better one.

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