Hot-button Halloween costumes

Ghosts of Prime Minister’s past. West Point Grey Academy

Keeping up with the age old conversation

This week on “Yes, We’re Still Having This Conversation” − when do Halloween costumes cross the line from cute and funny to degrading and appropriating? Some believe that a costume is simply just that – an outfit – and cannot be offensive because clothing isn’t offensive in and of itself. Others say that if it’s just an outfit for one night it shouldn’t matter because it’s not like they’re dressed in that manner daily. Some reach so low as to say it’s all the stores were selling. The fact is there are some outfits that should not be used as costumes, regardless of popular opinions or what’s been done in the past.

Let’s address that last point first. Stores supplying costumes normally have their stock based on the demand they’ve observed in the past. Remove the demand, and there will no longer be any money in filling it, so the supply will dwindle. Continue to show that there’s interest in a specific costume, and it will continue to be supplied because that’s where the money is, regardless of how inappropriate the costume may be.

A simple Google search shows millions of DIY-costumes you can make in less than an hour, or if you’re really in a rough spot you can dress up as Tobias Funke from Arrested Development with some blue paint and jean shorts. Laziness is the root of the “I couldn’t think of anything else,” excuse and in 2019, with this much inspiration at your fingertips, it is a pretty shoddy cop-out.

A great way to figure out if your costume is appropriate is to ask yourself to explain why it’s okay. If you had to scramble a bit to find an answer, or if your reason is composed of points like “well it doesn’t offend me,” then it’s safe to say there’s a line being crossed. Here’s a simple rule of thumb: cultures and races are not costumes.

It’s almost cherry-picking in a sense; you’re taking what you like from that group or what’s convenient for you without understanding the full implications or going through the daily discrimination that those groups face. White people dressing up as other cultures is a perfect display of white privilege because they get to dress up at their leisure and mock the stereotypes, then at the end of the night they get to shed that identity and not face the discrimination, whereas the people from those cultures go through it their entire lives. If your costume is based on the stereotypes of a minority, you’re showing a gross amount of ignorance at the very least.

Finally, if your costume is an outfit that the people groups themselves have been persecuted for wearing, that’s appropriation. If you’re basing your costume off a culture that the English invaded, attempted to destroy, and colonized, you’re crossing a line. As a closing analogy, here’s the dialogue from a recent Facebook post by Joe CrowShoe that puts it quite succinctly: “Tell Indigenous people they can’t dress in their traditional clothing for hundreds of years and nobody bats an eye. Tell white people they can’t dress in Indigenous traditional clothing for one night and they all lose their minds.”

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