Halloween is an opportunity that many people take to indulge in some serious candy eating, visit haunted houses, partake in trick-or-treating and of course, attend fabulous costume parties. However, many people fail to recognize that some costumes chosen can be perceived as insensitive, stereotypical or down-right racist. Some people fail to realize that it's not okay to choose costumes that dehumanize another's culture just for the sake of fun and entertainment.
Some things to keep in mind:
- It's not a joke. "Cultural costumes" often exaggerate negative racial and ethnic stereotypes.
- It does not honor culture. It mocks someone's culture. These types of costumes refer to caricatures that speak to little or no authenticity about the culture.
- Don't use the excuse " my ____ friends don't mind." Just because someone has a friend that shares the identity of the racist costume does not mean this person speaks for the entire group or that the costume has received a "not racist" stamp of approval.
These issues of racist Halloween costumes also permeate through many colleges and universities. Student Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) from Ohio University created a poster "We're A Culture, Not a Costume" campaign that has received national attention for their efforts to increase awareness about the impact of racist Halloween costumes. More information can be found online.
The Cross Cultural Center encourages everyone to check themselves and their friends before heading out this Halloween using the questions provided by Hampshire College:
- Does my costume represent a culture that is not my own?
- Would I be embarrassed or ashamed if someone from the group I'm portraying saw me wearing this?
- Is my costume supposed to be funny? Is the humor based on making fun of real people, human traits or cultures?
- Does my costume reduce cultural differences to jokes or stereotypes?
- Does my costume packaging include the words "tradition," "ethnic," "colonial," "cultural," "authentic" or "tribal"?
- Does my costume perpetuate stereotypes, misinformation, or historical and cultural inaccuracies?
Yes, a costume may be hilarious to some, but it may also be perceived as racist. And let's face it: No one wants to be labeled as a racist.