“Halloween is a fun and celebratory occasion. It is often a time used to portray a character or symbol different than oneself. Unfortunately, stores often sell stereotypical and offensive costumes.”
These are the opening lines of a notice on the University of Colorado Boulder website urging student partygoers to think carefully before choosing their Halloween costumes.
“The CU-Boulder community has in the past witnessed and been impacted by people who dressed in costumes that included blackface or sombreros/serapes; people have also chosen costumes that portray particular cultural identities as overly sexualized, such as geishas…or stereotypical, such as cowboys and Indians,” the article continues.
“CU-Boulder values freedom of expression and creativity both in and outside of the classroom. The CU community also values inclusiveness, respect and sensitivity.”
The institution was one of several US universities to use their websites to urge student revellers to consider the way their Halloween get-up might be viewed by fellow students (and the wider public).
Threads, the blog of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Multicultural Student Center, carries a post titled “Does this costume make me look racist?”, which tackles similar concerns.
“Growing up, I loved everything about Halloween. Not only did I get to collect bags full of free candy from my neighbors, I got to dress up and pretend to be someone else for a night,” writes Ashley Reum, a communications intern at the centre.
“It wasn’t until I got to college that I noticed the racism and ignorance that often comes with inappropriate Halloween costumes. I became very bitter towards the holiday I used to love. I grew tired of seeing these same offensive and insensitive costumes every year and categorized them all as racist.”
But she discovered that some of her own assumptions were “just as ignorant as the inappropriate costumes I would see on Halloween”, she says, before unveiling three “guidelines for understanding why a costume might be seen as racist”.
The first concerns drawing “inspiration from cultures without knowing what it means”; the second covers “romanticizing a culture”, when costumes are “over-sexualized”; the third, stereotyping. “The Mariachi, the Kimono princess and the kung fu master all strip down a culture and emphasize and exaggerate one characteristic,” Reum writes.
“These categories act as guidelines and the deconstruction and analysis of costumes are not limited by them. Before we point fingers this Halloween, remember many students might not know the implications of their costume.”
Meanwhile, for the third year in a row, Ohio University’s Students Teaching About Racism in Society held its “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” poster campaign, which features students in inappropriate costumes pictured with the people they might be seen to be mocking.
“You wear the costume for one night, I wear the stigma for life,” reads the slogan.
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