Racist Halloween Costumes?

Last year, I made a note of a CNN article, “We’re a culture, not a costume.” I meant to write about it before Halloween, but I forgot. Luckily (?), this year, similar discussions are going on concerning Halloween costumes and racism.

This is my take on some of the costumes that have been denounced as racist. I would love to know what you think.

Arab boy holding a photo of a man dressed as a suicide bomber

This is guy dressed up as an Arab suicide bomber. This is not OK. It perpetuates a stereotype, as well as makes light of the fact that suicide bomb attacks are still happening everyday.

Man and woman dressed up as stereotypical Native Americans

If you look closely, you see that the people in this picture are dressed in stereotypical Native American dress, with war paint, and that the man is carrying a sign that reads, “Me Wantum Piece, Not War.” The sign is not OK. It implies that Native Americans are stupid, among other things. However, I don’t see a problem with people dressing up in actual traditional Native American garb, regardless of whether or not they are Native American.

Asian woman holding picture of woman in a geisha costume

This one, I disagree with. I don’t see how someone dressing up like a geisha is any different than someone dressing up as entertainers of any sort. A geisha is a type of Japanese entertainer. Dressing up like a geisha doesn’t mean that all Asian women are this way anymore than dressing up like Madonna or Lady Gaga means all white women are this way.

I’ve also seen a variation on this theme with a group dressed up as a mariachi band (but I can’t find an image). I don’t see why 4 people dressing up like a mariachi band is any different from 4 people dressing up like KISS. Of course, this assumes that the 4 people dressed up are admirers of the band/genre, and are not dressing up specifically to poke fun at the band. That’s not cool.

Finally, please, call me crazy, but I like this costume:

Illegal Alien costume

Why? Because it pokes fun at the stereotype, not the stereotypee. I don’t like the term “illegal alien.” We’re all people. Except that guy, he clearly isn’t a person. He’s an actual alien. Clearly, that’s what an illegal alien is. Not this:

Latino man holding a picture of a person dressed as a "Mexican"

When I see the top one, I see progressive social commentary. When I see the bottom one, I see ignorance.

That is my take on racist Halloween costumes. I could be totally wrong. Tell me I am. Or tell me you agree with me. Or tell me what you and your kids are for Halloween. Just tell me something!

(Cute pictures of my kids in their very much not racist Halloween costumes will be posted Friday.)

(And all of the “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” images are copyright Ohio University’s STARS Program.)




10 thoughts on “Racist Halloween Costumes?

  1. Are you on the Transracial Adoption FB group? There has been a lot of discussion about this over there. When I heard about Pottery Barn and the geisha and sushi chef, my thought is that this has become RIDICULOUS. We are going way too far with the fun police. Is wearing those costumes is mocking anybody, then nobody should ever wear a costume for Halloween. It’s all about being somebody far different from yourself–from the origins of carnival, really. I also don’t like it when people think it’s wrong when an AA child wears a Belle costume or a white child wears a Mulan costume. Good grief, if Marisha hadn’t been able to wear a variety of costumes growing up she might not be an actor. Wait, maybe that would be good ;). Just kidding.

    • I am not on that group. I got attacked for defending the phrase “chink in the armor” and for my position on the Baby Veronica case (that it wasn’t so cut and dried and that the Capobiancos aren’t monsters). So I left.
      What’s wrong with being a sushi chef?
      I admit that some costumes do perpetuate stereotypes and are racist, and that some costumes are simply in poor taste, but I do think it’s gone way over the top.

      • I know. Things have gone too far. Sushi chef is no different from dressing up as a nurse or doctor. It’s a job. If it’s racist to dress that way, it’s saying that to be a sushi chef is an embarrassment. OUTRAGEOUS. Something is wrong with the logic of too many people right now.
        Some costumes are horrible, like Trayvon Martin and stuff like that. But because there are really tacky and cruel people doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to wear a kimono for a costume. It’s a historical and cultural fact that people have worn kimonos. Why is that BAD?

  2. Forgive me, but I’m fighting a bad cold and may not be totally coherent. I’m not a huge fan of any costumes which depict a culture other than one’s own. Frankly, it lacks creativity in my mind. Yeah, my head is pounding now…so back to moaning and not moving.

  3. We just had this discussion on FB. I talked about how you can be a different race entertainer without actually face painting yourself (in this case black) and the point is still made. There are much more important things about any person without focusing on skin color. But, if you’re depicting someone of a different race and you decide to paint your face, I think it’s more poor taste than necessarily racist.

  4. I think the first costume is racist because not depict a positive image and can perpetrate a negative image that makes some people hate. I also think that costumes that depict religious figures (they can be done in good taste) to be in poor taste. Those also can cause hurt or anger. My dad is a cowboy every day, and kids dressing up as a cowboy is a positive as he is a good role model. Eva dressed as a folklorico dancer which was fine as she may not look it but she does claim a close heritage from that nation. I don’t really like the geisha as they are high paid call girls and to be fair I hate the pimp and whore costumes.I encourage my children to dress as something positive. If dressing as a native (name the country) is something that interests the kids it is okay with me.
    However I hate the school multicultural days that depict cultures in stereotype rather than in truth. For instance just because someones aunt went to Japan does not mean a display of kimonos, chopsticks, and a sample of rice, accurately depicts Japan to children. It is often perpetuating stereotypes. In this instance, todays Japan has high speed trains high tech companies and most people dress in the common clothing one might find in the USA. I often wonder if in Japan children think we here in the USA dress in cowboy hats and Hawaiian shirts or like rappers with saggy pants and we all dress like Miley Cyrus.
    My imagined multicultural day would have all families truly sharing their families culture or heritage. For instance I might share some southern food like greens or candied yams. My grandparents are from Georgia. I might share my religion (not Proselytizing) just displaying a Christmas tree or answering questions, wedding pictures, or if my family had a interest in or activity that I felt was unique and I just wanted to share. If my family was into hiking or surfing that would be good to share. What about families that do community service, or a family that had a family member with a serious disability and wanted to share how that affected their family culture. I would encourage children to find that which makes their family culture unique were you adopted,do you have two mothers, does your family love football a lot, are you vegetarian? It is only by showing our difference can we accept them and maybe find something that is the same in us. I believe that is true multiculturalism. For instance, my daughter was not adopted but she has two mothers, some children may have remarried parents thus two moms, or same gender parents living in the home, or maybe polygamist parents, to my daughter the sameness, is what will help her understand that it is okay. My son Lelan’s father is Filipino there are children who are also might be able to share that commonality with him. Lelan likes cars he could share that interest with another with similar interests. He likes acting and might see the sameness in another child. My daughter Victoria ( she is multi racial, AA, Ea, and NA) loves riding horses and for a while wanted to be a barrel racer. I do not believe she would find many AA girls with that interest here in Ca. but she has found some Mexican American friends that share her interest.
    I am not a good writer and find it difficult to express what I mean in written word so hopefully you understand what I mean.

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