Halloween is a fun time to dress up and be something you’re not – but maybe wish you could be – for just one night. You can go big and have the most extravagant or creative costume in the room with pounds of special effects makeup on, or you can go the simple route and wear the classic “404: Costume Not Found” t-shirt. Whatever you decide to rock on Halloween is fine – unless it’s offensive.
Oftentimes, offensive costumes are just misguided, perhaps borne out of ignorance, and aren’t intentionally malicious. However, that doesn’t excuse the offense. It’s important to be sensitive to other people’s identities and cultures, as well as their struggles.
Blackface, brownface, yellowface – and any other variations of painting your face a different color to portray a certain race – are never acceptable. This kind of makeup is used to stereotype, degrade and dehumanize groups of people, and it’s not okay. Just because the person or character you want to dress up as is a different race than you doesn’t mean you need to paint your face a different color to get your message across. If your costume is good, people will get the idea without the offensive makeup.
In a similar vein, don’t appropriate culture. There’s a difference between appreciating another culture and honoring it versus finding something about that culture aesthetically pleasing and wearing a mockery of it. Halloween stores are teeming with “Indian Princess,” “Hey Amigo Mexican” and “Sexy Pleasing Geisha” costumes – or some variation of those terribly offensive and disparaging names – and as a result it may seem okay to don these costumes. Don’t be fooled – it is most certainly not okay to wear an ethnicity as a costume. While many of these costumes are meant to be comical or sexy, there’s ways of being funny and looking attractive that don’t involve combining a series of stereotypes about a group of people.
Additionally, you shouldn’t turn the struggles of others into your own personal comedy special. If you want to dress up as Amy Winehouse, don’t trivialize her problems with addiction by walking around with a fake needle. Similarly, dressing up as “Dr. Luke,” who has been accused of sexual assault, with a name tag saying you work in the gynecology department, trivializes victims of sexual violence. This should also go without saying, but don’t dress up as a national tragedy, like the burning Twin Towers. These are actual issues with real victims, and making a joke of them for Halloween doesn’t make you funny, it makes you a jerk.
Halloween is a time to explore a different side of yourself by donning a costume and having fun with friends. Be funny, be creative, be sexy – but don’t be mean, insensitive or malicious. It’s possible to have fun and dress up without degrading others or making fun of social issues.