There’s always one. You know the type. The blonde girl that dons a fringed suedette dress and headdress and ‘transforms’ into Pocahontas. Or that white guy that decides to wear locs and be a Rastafarian for the night. To those people, we say NOPE.
Halloween can be a big ol’ melting pot of problematic. For some reason, some people just don’t think that the thousands upon thousands of non-offensive costumes are good enough, and that the 31st October gives them a free pass to offend as many people as they wish. It may come as a surprise to those kinds of people, that there are options out there in the big wide world that aren’t culturally insensitive to minority groups or reinforce racial stereotypes. Shocker, right?!
It’s not even just privileged individuals that are great at fucking up at this time of year — brands are equally as guilty (Fashion Nova are 2018’s latest culprits). Just a handful of costumes not to go anywhere near include:
any form of Blackface
Mexicans (that includes both the stereotypical sombrero and poncho combo and any reference to Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead)
Geishas or Samurais
If you read through those and your idea struck out, tough luck. That list was by no means exhaustive, so take a good look at your next costume idea. Let’s break it down and go through the basic questions that you should be asking yourself:
1. Does it have any undertones of cultural, racial, or ethnic groups?
If the answer is yes, now’s the time to consider not only the lines you could be crossing, but the oppression and discrimination of the marginalised group that you see as nothing more than a costume.
2. Would your costume be making a caricature out of a person’s everyday culture?
It’s important to remember two things here. By appropriating someone’s culture for the sake of a costume, it’s not just ‘good, clean fun’. No, we’re not snowflakes, or too politically correct. By using your privilege and making the choice to ‘dress up’ for the night, you’re actually dehumanising an entire culture and mimicking real people’s existences.
3. Does any part of your costume or its props have any significance to a marginalised group?
Are you aware of what your props symbolise to someone else? Are they just an everyday commodity, or are they something of cultural importance? If they do hold meaning to someone else, don’t make a joke out of them. (Dear White Pocahontas, your ‘cute’ headdress is the equivalent of military medals in Western culture. Don’t be a dick.)
4. Would anyone be offended by your costume?
This is a really simple question that will help you. Are you offending anyone? If you need any further help, maybe think about whether you’d like it if somebody dressed up as a sexy/dead/[insert adjective here] version of something that meant a lot to you?
Just in case you’re wondering, we’re looking for hard no’s across the board. If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, then you definitely need to drop whichever racist get-up you were going for. If you’ve answered no to all of the above, go ahead, you’re not a problematic arsehole. See, it’s really not that hard. Remember, whilst you think it’s okay to wear a culture as a costume for the night, marginalised people wear the social stigma and oppression surrounding their culture for life.
So this is a Public Service Announcement: If you’re dressing up this Halloween, and you’re planning on wearing something that imitates, belittles or stereotypes a minority culture, then don’t. Culture is not a costume.