As Halloween nears you may hear phrases such as “we’re a culture, not a costume,” or “you wear the costume for one night and I wear the stigma for life.” These statements all come from posters looking to inform people about cultural costumes.
These posters were produced by STARS, or Students Teaching About Racism in Society, a college organization devoted to “facilitating discussion about diversity and all isms.”
Posters first emerged in fall of 2011, and depicted people holding pictures of partygoers in exaggeratedly racist costumes, such as a man dressed as Middle Easterner with a bomb strapped to his chest. The second campaign, following the next year, showed young adults with people exaggerated racist costumes behind them, such as an Asian person, a hillbilly, or a geisha.
While these instances are presumably rare, it begs the question: is this a realistic problem?
What does STARS hope to gain from their crusade against such costumes? Clearly, the average (and sane) person does not need to be told not to paint themselves black, or dress as a stereotypical Asian for Halloween, so there hopefully is not as much need to inform people of that. STARS cannot eradicate all cultural based costumes all together, even though there are other, less problematic options.
If you search for top ten or most popular Halloween costumes, anything from Miley Cyrus to Walter White will show up, but rarely cultural themed or racial stereotyped attire.
I suppose it’s all in how easily offended you are. Some may be disgusted with any type of cultural costumes, whether it is a gypsy, geisha, or the widely disputed Native American costume. Maybe society tries to hard not to offend anyone. I don’t care what wear for Halloween, as long as you aren’t brutally racist.
That being said, there is a distinct difference between a grown man or woman painting themselves a different color and making a caricature of an ethnic group simply for a costume, or kids donning kimonos to go trick or treating.
Additionally, there is a range on the spectrum; just because a costume has cultural or ethnic connotation does not automatically mean it is racist.
Adults should know better than to think they can dress as another race and have it be accepted, and it could be said that allowing children to wear different cultures as costumes leads them to believe that it is acceptable to continue with this behavior when they are grown.
However, I am a white girl, meaning my claims regarding those of other races and ethnicities can be viewed as less valid. I have not experienced discrimination on account of my origin, and very rarely do people dress up as any type of white European for Halloween.
The main problem does not seem to come from store bought costumes, but from those that create outfits with the intent to be racist or funny. You can’t buy a terrorist costume at the store.
So if you’re planning on spending Halloween in a cultural costume, you may want to pause and think for second about the stigma accompanying it.