Here’s The Harsh Question About Halloween: Are You Wearing A Costume, Or Mocking A Culture?


This weekend is Halloween weekend which means the streets will be filled with drunk people dressed up in ridiculous costumes. As you get older, Halloween becomes a really exciting night of the year where you get to play dress up and can pretty much be whatever or whomever you want. Everyone flocks to Halloween stores weeks in advance to buy costumes and makeup, some of which will end up being extremely inappropriate and hurtful.

Are you thinking about dressing up like an “Native American Princess” for Halloween this year? Or wearing blackface to be a “Zulu Warrior”? (I wish I was kidding) Or what about dressing like a “Mexican Mariachi player” or wearing a kimono to dress like a sexy “geisha”?

Please don’t. These are not costumes. They are cultures and identities that you are appropriating and turning into one night caricatures.

Appropriating other cultures on Halloween isn’t always necessarily done with the malicious intent of being offensive, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not. Although your intentions may not be bad, your impact on those around you may (and probably will) be, and the reality is that the impact it has on others outweighs your intentions.

In September, Disney pulled costumes for their upcoming film, Moana, from their stores after activists pointed out that the costume included simulated brown skin and tribal tattoos and had commodified and appropriated the cultural heritage of Pacific Islanders. Something that may seem like “just a costume” to you is painfully obvious negative racial and cultural stereotyping to others.

Wearing fake headdresses, or sugar skull makeup isn’t cute or funny. It’s racist.

I guarantee you that when you walk out on the streets this weekend you will see dozens of people with sugar skull makeup, which by the way, is for the Day of the Dead, and has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween.

A group in Ohio called “Students Teaching About Racism in Society” has been raising awareness about offensive Halloween costumes since 2011. Their poster this year features a member of the Black Lives Matter movement with the message: “My Fight Is Not Your Costume.”

The organization’s original campaign in 2011 featured posters of students holding pictures of people dressed in ethnic stereotyped costumes with the message “This Is Not Who I Am, And This Is Not Okay.”

You’re simplifying entire groups of people into negatively stereotyped costumes. You’re commodifying and misrepresenting people’s cultures, and you’re probably offending a lot of people in the process.

Dressing up as a superhero and appropriating someone’s culture are not the same. If you have to ask yourself if your costume is racist, then it probably is. So please, ditch the inappropriate costumes, leave the sugar skull makeup at home (or in the trash) and think twice before you reduce an entire culture into an oversimplified and hurtful caricature.