By: Skylar G.
Halloween is the only holiday of the year in which it is socially acceptable to dress up as another person and consume way too much sugar (and, as you get older, alcohol). While there are lots of options for Halloween costumes, you should always be careful not to partake in cultural appropriation. Just because it’s Halloween doesn’t give you the excuse to have a shitty, racist costume. Here are five questions to ask yourself before donning a costume that you’re unsure is racist or not. After all, being a good feminist is about being inclusive and intersectional of all races and cultures.
1. Am I dressing up like another race or culture?
Is your costume Tiger Lily from Peter Pan? Pocahontas? Are you wearing a feather headdress? Are you wearing a sombrero and holding some maracas? Are you darkening your skin? Changing your facial features to resemble a different race?
If your costume involves a caricature of an entire culture, don’t wear it.
It’s insensitive and racist towards people who actually are a part of that culture. Dressing up like a stereotype of a race or culture is turning an entire group of people into a gross caricature for your entertainment. So don’t do it. People of color’s cultures are not costumes, and don’t treat them as such, even for one night.
2. Would I feel uncomfortable wearing my costume around a group of people of that culture?
Would you feel embarrassed or self-conscious in your sombrero if you went to a Halloween party that was comprised mainly of Latin@s? Your sexy geisha costume at a party comprised mainly of Japanese people? Your Pocahottie costume at a party filled with Indigenous people? If someone tells you that your costume is offensive, would your reasons reach beyond “it’s a joke!” or “it’s just a costume”?
If you can imagine discomfort at their reactions, don’t wear it. It’s easy to justify your costume to a group of like-minded people who benefit from the same privileges that you do, but it’s harder when you’re facing a group of people that you are dressing up as. My general rule is imagining myself in that room of people and how I would feel wearing my costume. If I felt like I would be called out (and rightfully so), I’m not going to wear it. No costume is worth being a racist.
3. Does my costume involve a sexualized name of another culture? (eg “Poca-Hottie”)
Women of color are frequently sexualized and exoticized much more than white women. Native women, in particular, have been portrayed as immoral, promiscuous women since the time of Colombus’ conquest of the Americas. Dressing up as a “sexy Indian princess” is just playing into the systematic violence that has plagued these women for almost six hundred years. These costumes are the result of years of systematic rape and genocide.
Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than any other women in this nation, including women of color. By dressing up as Poca-Hottie (Pocahontas, by the way, was 12 years old when she saved John Smith, who was much older than her, from execution), you are downplaying the violence, physical and sexual, that these women face every day, by turning it into a joke and something you can take off at the end of the night.
Dressing up like a “sexy” geisha or any other woman of color is not okay. So don’t do it.
4. Does it involve changing the color of my skin?
And no, I’m not talking about changing your skin color to green or purple. Blackface has a direct relationship to racist minstrel shows of the early 20th century. It derived from the transatlantic slave trade, and was used to demean and dehumanize black people at the hands of white people. Blackface has a disgustingly racist and colonial history. Don’t ever do blackface. Ever.
Blackface a little too offensive for you? Please don’t dress up like a sexy sugar skull for Halloween either. El Dia de los Muertos is a sacred holiday that has no relation to Halloween. It is a holiday that has indigenous roots and is meant to celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died. It’s not a giant party here you paint your face to look like a pretty skull while wearing a flower crown. It doesn’t matter if you think the face makeup used to celebrate this holiday is pretty and you’re inspired by it. It’s really shitty when a person’s culture is stripped down and commodified.
There are other, more creative ways to dress up for Halloween that don’t involve darkening your skin to resemble someone in particular or a whole culture.
5. Could my costume potentially offend people?
If you have gone through these four questions and are now feeling uneasy about your choice of costume, I beg you to reconsider it. Do you really want to be known as the racist, culturally-appropriative douchebag at the party? It’s better to have a boring, unoriginal costume than to be known as ‘That Guy/Girl” who wore a racist costume when they should have known better (I’m looking at you, Julianne Hough!)