Racially inspired Halloween costumes continue to offend


author: elisabeth sahlmueller – contributor 


As a child, one of my favourite things was getting to dress up each year at Halloween. I remember putting together various items from home with my Mom’s help to create something completely unique. Now that I’m older, this fun and creativity has been lost amongst the majority of people our age and the idea of Halloween costume choice has become somewhat of a controversial subject. For many women, the choice seems to be “slutty” whomever or whatever. The other major problem is the continued rise in popularity of ethnic-based Halloween costumes.

The fad of dressing up as someone from another culture has continued to plague our society for years. Some of these costumes have included: sexy Native American woman, Mexicans, Asian Geishas, as well as a variety of others.

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with dressing up in an ethnic based costume at Halloween, but I do think that the way a person presents themselves in that particular type of clothing, as well as their attitude and behaviour can come across as extremely offensive to an individual from that culture. Dressing up is meant to be a fun thing, but unfortunately in the process, some people can take it too far and cross boundaries.

Choosing to dress up in an ethnic-style costume seems harmless, but most often that costume is altered and exaggerated to fit a stereotypical white person’s perspective of that culture. Not only is this unrealistic, but it also downgrades that culture because it allows for common negative stereotypes associated with a specific culture to remain.

When people dress up, they are not usually trying to be rude or offensive, and are only looking to have some fun; however, people have to understand that a costume can be easily removed and forgotten about, but the stereotypes – which are often negative – offend people from that ethnic background and stay with them in their daily lives. Many of these associated stereotypes are unfortunately expressed and highly emphasized in costumes. In these cases, it becomes more difficult for that stereotype to disappear because of its reinforcement within an individual’s Halloween costume.

Some people have become greatly upset with the idea of ethnic Halloween costumes. One group of students from Ohio University launched the “We’re a culture, not a costume” campaign to raise awareness on this issue and persuade people to not represent culture in stereotypical costumes. This is a great idea because people don’t realize they are being offensive and need to become aware of the impact that an ethnic costume can have on the people of that ethnicity, as well as on our society.

On the other hand, I do think ethnic costumes are a unique idea, but they just have to be done in a respectful way. For example, if an individual wants to dress up like a Native American woman or a Romani, research traditional historical clothing and wear that instead of some stereotypical, sexualized costume from the store. We live in a multicultural country, so it is not surprising that people would want to dress up like someone from a different culture, but there is a right way to do that. People need to be considerate of people’s ethnicities and should make an effort to dress up in realistic and non-offensive style clothing. Dressing up at Halloween should be fun, so let’s try to keep it that way and not offend people in the process.


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