Halloween is in large part an escapist holiday, allowing people of all ages to dress up for scares or for laughs. But the joking stops and damage is done when costumes center on racial or cultural stereotypes.
As reported by the CBC News, Ohio University’s Students Teaching About Racism in Society, or STARS, has launched an awareness campaign about costumes that mock ethnic backgrounds or center on broad-brush characterizations of minority groups. The student organization’s efforts feature posters with the headline “We’re a culture, not a costume” and the tag line “This is not who I am, and this is not okay.” The posters show students of various backgrounds holding up photos of people dressed as Geisha girls or terrorists, and one in blackface makeup.
STARS President Sarah Williams told ABCNews.com, “We wanted to highlight these offensive costumes because we’ve all seen them. We just wanted to say, ‘Hey, this is not cool. This is offensive and this shouldn’t be taken lightly.’ It’s offending a culture and people should be aware.”
Critics will say that any Halloween costume can be determined offensive by some group, and there may be some truth to that. We’re guessing that women who studied and trained to become nurses, teachers and law enforcement officers likely find the tawdry Halloween versions of their professions to be a bit much. A Google images search of “Halloween costumes” turns up not only outfits for kids and dogs, but also an array of borderline stripper garb themed to just about any occupation one can imagine (we‚ are still having trouble with the “sexy plumber” costume that looks like the Super Mario Brothers’ skanky sister).
This should not undercut the veracity of the STARS group’s point, that Halloween can be a fun time without demeaning ethnic and minority groups.
If a someone who is not Muslim dressed in thobe with a kuffiyeh on their head as a joke on any day other than Halloween, the general populace would find it offensive, or at least off-putting. So why set one day a year aside to glorify stereotypes and mock cultural differences?
This doesn’t mean Halloween can’t be fun — in fact, it can be more fun if everyone gets to laugh at the joke.