Halloween Without Being Offensive (Hint: It’s Possible)

Each year for Halloween, a plethora of creative, innovative, and truly remarkable costumes appear.  However, there are equally as many clichéd, offensive, and culturally appropriated costumes.  While it is 2017, and in the age of Google we all really should know better now, there seems to be some disconnect between our tech-savvy generation and a simple internet search as to why some costumes are not appropriate.  All this aside, I would like to take a moment to address some of the most common offenses on this holiday that could otherwise be a time of fun, relaxation, and a chance to show off creativity.

1. Do NOT dress up as an “Indian.”

First of all, for someone to be Indian, they would have to be from the
country of India, not an indigenous person from the United States.  With that out of the way, it is still not okay to put on a costume that is supposed to resemble a Native American if you are not Native American.  With all the injustice that has been done and continues to be done against all of the indigenous populations of the United States, there is no need to heap insult on injury and mock a culture.  Dressing up as them, especially with the reigning idea a “slutty” or “savage”
version that perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes quite honestly makes you look ignorant.  Not to be harsh.  In addition, by doing this you flatten the diversity among different Native populations, ignoring the fact that there isn’t just one type of Native American.

2. Do NOT wear blackface.

This one is personal for me, considering the fact that I am a black person living in an era where people still think it is acceptable to paint their faces black.  THERE IS A WAY TO DRESS UP AS A BLACK PERSON WITHOUT WEARING BLACKFACE.  If you honestly don’t think there is, you don’t need to be dressing up for Halloween anyway.  Stay home.  When black people are criticized for their culture, only to have other people stereotype and take on those cultural aspects for “fun,” people understandably feel upset.  Kim Kardashian dressed up as Aaliyah for one of her Halloween costumes this year.  While she is getting a lot of backlash, she was able to dress up as an iconic black singer WITHOUT wearing blackface, regardless of whether we think she was out of her lane or not.  If Kim K can do it, you can too.

3. Do NOT dress up as a Mexican person.

College campuses lately have been guilty of having “Mexican parties” where they take their most offensive stereotypes and play them out in the name of fun.  Not okay.  With signs displaying offensive terms, bottles of tequila, and sombreros, people think it’s all in good fun. Wrong.  If you are playing into stereotypes about another culture, you can probably assume that the costume is wrong.  People are constantly discriminated against because they “look” Mexican, and people believe Trump’s rhetoric that they are “taking our jobs.”  To dress up as someone who is considered the “harmful, illegal alien” and make fun of assumed aspects of a culture is disrespectful.

4. Do NOT dress up as an Arab person.

There are so many ways to go wrong with this one, because the way y’all’s President is acting, everyone thinks being or “looking Arab” means that someone is basically a terrorist.  Then, there is the tendency to assume that every Arab person is also Muslim.  That is a generalization that is false.  These generalizations have resulted in actual policy change in the United States, with 45 banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.  Generalizations and stereotypes can be harmful.  Why would you want to play into that? People are literally being discriminated against, kept out of the country, and targeted in airport security because of the way they look.  What would ever make it okay for someone else to dress up in a way that people who actually are of a certain culture have to be scared to do?

This is not to say that I have composed an extensive list of every way you can be offensive and insensitive and flat out wrong on Halloween. There are so many cultures that you do not need to appropriate, and having an *insert cultural identity here* friend does NOT make whatever stereotypes you’re perpetuating okay.  Ultimately, this is reducing a culture and a people to less-than-human status, so you can coopt whatever part of them or their culture you see fit.  These cultures are constantly discriminated against, so to see them used by someone else and accepted is hurtful and wrong.  If you even think there is the slight possibility there is something offensive or wrong about your costume, ask a friend.  Do a quick Google search.  I promise, someone will help you out.  No one is trying to take away your fun.  If you can’t have fun without being disrespectful or insensitive, that seems like a problem you need to address personally.  Now that we have had a chance to address these issues, remember, someone’s culture is NOT a costume, and saying “I didn’t know” is an inadequate excuse for ignorance.  Intention doesn’t always justify the outcome.

Article Written By: Imani Johnson

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