Life + Culture

Halloween Costumes

'Tis the season for a reminder...

There are plenty of articles about racially inappropriate costumes, yet every year folks perpetuate appropriationcaricature, and humiliation as Halloween sport. It is annual affliction, so I guess it's worth making the point yet again...

Using a culture, race, or ethnicity as a costume is not appropriate. Ever. 

On Halloween, we get the opportunity to disguise ourselves as something 'other,'something different from normal, something bizarre. That people of color might be one of these costume options is tragic and offensive.

As Lisa Wade notes, Halloween outfits basically come in three flavors: scary, funny, or fantasy. Real cultures shouldn't fit into any of these categories. By using people's identities as costumes, we imply that they are 'not one of us,' or not even fully human, belonging instead to the realm of ghouls and goblins.

In the U.S., we spend the entire year marginalizing people of color, maintaining low visibility on TV, in movies, and in the media, but then suddenly become hyper-interested in 'appreciating culture' for one offensive night (as though dressing as a Hollywood version of what you think a culture is has anything to do with appreciating it).

When we claim that it's all 'good harmless fun,' we reveal our privilege never to have to face the consequences of such stereotypes in our own lives. We reveal the power we hold to dictate who defines 'harmless' and 'fun.' We reveal how loudly our own voices are heard, even as we silence others. We reveal our capacity to imagine fantasy worlds for real cultures, while ignoring the historical baggage that makes us feel uncomfortable.

 Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) at Ohio University began a poster campaign to educate folks about the hurtful nature of racist costumes with the slogan "we're a culture, not a costume." All of the costumes they depict are real, and are perennially reprised. They get big props for concisely and clearly communicating what many of us have been frustrated with for years.


So, before dressing up this year, refer to Austin C. Brown’s guide to finding culture-appropriate costumes. And if you are looking for some clever alternatives, check out Take Back Halloween, and try some new themes this year.

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