Can kids wear that? What to know about culturally insensitive costumes

Your child would never insult anyone on purpose, but Halloween costumes that seemed OK years ago might not be anymore. Find out how to do the holiday sensitively.

Alissa Agnello wasn’t sure what to do a few Halloweens ago when her “very white” son, then three, wanted to be Maui from Disney’s film Moana. The character—based on a demigod from real Polynesian lore—inspired a line of costumes that had received backlash over cultural insensitivities, and she was concerned that her son’s outfit would disrespect the culture and stereotype a people.

“We compromised by dressing him in a shark costume with Maui’s hook, so he was Maui in another form,” the Seattle mom says. “I don't know if that was the right way to go, but he was happy and we avoided using tattoos and changing his hair.” (The Walt Disney Company is majority owner of National Geographic Partners.)

By giving careful thought to the costume and avoiding misrepresenting a cultural image, experts say Agnello and her son made a creative and sensitive decision. “The fact that the mother paused to think about the deeper implications is the first big step,” says Chotsani Williams West, executive director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Adelphi University. “It’s important to think about other people and how it may feel for them.”

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