Thursday, May 6, 2021

Think hard before choosing Halloween costume

“I’m going to be a Mexican for Halloween.”

I heard a young woman say this during class this week. She seemed completely unaware at how offensive and racist she sounded. That worries me.

What does being Mexican for Halloween entail? Will she talk in a stereotypical accent? Will she put on a stupid fake mustache and buy a giant sombrero? I can imagine the racist costume now, and I’m sure you can, too.

Since “Halloweekend” begins today, or yesterday for those who like to start the party early, it’s important to remember to dress up and have fun, but don’t do it in a way that makes fun of or offends a type of person, culture or belief. Halloween isn’t a chance to wear whatever crazy costume comes to mind.

A lot of people have a twisted sense of humor this weekend. I’ve seen insensitive costumes in the past such as “Indians” with big, ridiculous headdresses and over-the-top blue or red makeup that I’m pretty sure no Native American has ever worn, except maybe in movies. I’ve seen white people dress as “gangsters” with fake guns, chains and plastic grills in their mouths. This is not right and shouldn’t be accepted just because it’s Halloween.

Many colleges, such as the University of Washington, are emailing reminders to students to be thoughtful in picking costumes this Halloween. At the University of Louisville in Kentucky, a photograph of the college president James Ramsey in a stereotypical Mexican costume at a staff party surfaced online. Ramsey had to send out an apology to students for being insensitive.

Some will use the old, “It’s a free country and I can wear whatever I want” angle, but this isn’t an issue about free speech, it’s an issue of culture appropriation.

Susan Scafidi describes culture appropriation in her book, “Who Owns Culture?: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law,” as: “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive.”

A lot of people, especially young people, joke about others who are always politically correct, but isn’t that what everyone should strive for? Why would a person want to intentionally not be politically correct if he or she had the chance to?

We live in a very sensitive time in the world right now and people need to take that into consideration when shopping for a Halloween costume. Don’t throw a sheet on your head and call yourself ISIS. Don’t crossdress and call yourself Caitlyn Jenner. Please, think before you dress up this weekend.

This Halloween, I’m being a witch, fox, hippie and a devil with my roommates. I chose these mostly because I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and they aren’t going to offend anybody. At least, I hope not.

Pick a costume you know doesn’t make generalizations about a certain group or culture. Really think about who you could offend before you leave your dorm or apartment this weekend. If you think you’re in a gray area and aren’t sure what would be considered offensive, just come up with a different idea. Or better yet, ask somebody what they think.

Remember, a culture isn’t a costume.

Email Laura Schmidt at

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