By Christina Armeni
Every year when the leaves start to change color and the air gets a little more brisk, those who celebrate Halloween search the internet, skim through endless racks at party stores and pull pieces from their closet to create the perfect Halloween costume. Costumes that are insensitive and appropriate cultures have been a hot topic lately, as people are starting to shame offensive costume choices. But before you sigh and merely pass this off as another instance of ridiculous political correctness and an example of the sensitive “snowflake generation,” understand the harm that is caused by reinforcing stereotypes. Halloween is not a one night pass to be racist or sexist and flat-out ignorant. Here are just a few costumes that you should avoid this spooky season:
Every year I see parents dressing their young kids in torn flannels and dirty clothes carrying a bindle and a sign saying something along the lines of “will work for candy.” There is a major problem with this costume as it glosses over the severity of homelessness. As of 2016, more than half a million Americans are homeless. This is a life people often find hard to escape from and didn’t choose. Dressing up as a person in an unfortunate situation is plain insensitive. On Nov. 1 you get to go back to your job and your home, while the circumstances aren’t that simple for the hundreds of thousands of people without homes. Don’t use costumes as an excuse to trivialize legitimate societal issues.
This one seems like a no brainer — DO NOT WEAR BLACKFACE ANY TIME. It is extremely offensive. By now I would have hoped the world has learned this, but we constantly see people of color being used as costumes that reinforce stereotypes. Blackface was a disappointing part of our recent history, as it was a popular practice during the 19th and early 20th century in which white people would paint their face black and portray stereotypical mannerisms, to entertain other white people. It was wrong back then and it is wrong today. Don’t wear black face or brown face or yellow face or any costume that involves changing the color of your skin. This all goes back to the point that minorities’ skin color and culture is not a costume. Skin color is part of their identity that they wear 365 days a year. They don’t get to take it off and therefore have to deal with the consequences of racism and stereotypes every day.
Almost every Halloween store sells prisoner costumes or sexy convict costumes. But if you think about it, there is simply nothing sexy about the prison system. When you remember that the United States has the highest prison rate in the world and that there are more jails in the U.S. than colleges, you start to realize how unfunny dressing up in black-and-white stripes and chains really is.
You may want to think twice before pulling together a Bob Marley costume this year or a ‘70s afro for disco costume. Unless you have that hairstyle naturally, you are painfully reinforcing racial privilege. A white person shouldn’t wear a dreadlock wig for Halloween if people of color have to deal with so many setbacks every day as a result of the way they may choose to style their hair. Are we forgetting about the very real discrimination that occurs in the workplace against those who don’t have “professional” straight hair? Minorities are still fighting for the right to wear their hair the way they want without experiencing disadvantages. Other races and cultures’ hairstyles are not jokes, costumes or props.
Native Americans seem to be forgotten by society in every way except on Oct. 31. On Halloween, the “Indian” costume is a favorite and like that of the prisoner, sometimes gets turned into a “sexy Indian costume.” When you dress up as a Native American you’re not dressing up as a person, you’re attempting to dress up as an entire group of people. Native American culture and tradition are not costumes, so stay away from any costume that makes a mockery of another culture’s traditional clothing. In addition, traditional clothing such as Indian saris and Japanese kimonos are not costumes — they are representative of their culture.
This Halloween, avoid any costumes that stereotype a group of people, perpetuate racist ideals or appropriate a culture. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Wear the Superman costume, dress up as a ghost, string together your best minion costume; these are all harmless fictional characters that don’t try to single-handedly embody a community or race. I am sure this year tons of little kids want to dress up as one of the badass characters from Black Panther — great! But they can do so without altering their skin color or including any racial stereotypes. You can wear the costume without wearing the race. Before you step out on Oct. 31, take the time to consider what impact your costume has.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pixabay.
Christina Armeni is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.