Does This Costume Make Me Look Racist?

by Ashley R., Multicultural Student Center (MSC)

Growing up, I loved everything about Halloween. Not only did I get to collect bags full of free candy from my neighbors, I got to dress up and pretend to be someone else for a night. Throughout my adolescence I embodied a princess, a witch, a power ranger and a variety of other costumes my grandmother tailored for me and my siblings. It wasn’t until I got to college that I noticed the racism and ignorance that often comes with inappropriate Halloween costumes. I became very bitter towards the holiday I used to love. I grew tired of seeing these same offensive and insensitive costumes every year and categorized them all as racist.

Images from:, and Google searches of Mexican halloween costumes
Images from:, and Google searches of Mexican halloween costumes

However, the assumptions I made were just as ignorant as the inappropriate costumes I would see on Halloween. It’s very easy to call someone racist based on my own perceptions. We see their attire and automatically assume they’ve made an informed decision to wear an offensive costume. In order to create awareness, we need to understand not everyone has the same background and experiences. For some students, UW is the most diversity they have ever seen. Instead of labeling these people as racist, we could deconstruct why their costume is racist, and how we can express that message in a safe space.

The hard part isn’t thinking someone’s costume is racist or insensitive. It’s knowing exactly why it’s offensive. I’ve sorted inappropriate costumes into three general categories to act as guidelines for understanding why a costume might be seen as racist.

1. Costumes that appropriate a culture. These are costumes that pull inspiration from cultures without knowing what it means. A very common example is sugar skull face painting. Although the painting may look authentic, they are taking a tradition from people who celebrate Dia De Los Muertos without knowing what it means.

Image from:
Image from:

2. Romanticizing a culture. This is seen in “poca-hottie,” gypsy, belly dancer, and geisha costumes. They are over-sexualized and their perceived lifestyle is fantasized. However, many of these costumes have ties to oppressionrape and genocide.

Image from:
Image from:

3. Stereotyping. The Mariachi, the Kimono princess and the kung fu master all strip down a culture and emphasize and exaggerate one characteristic. This perpetuates the idea that this is the entirety of their culture. Another costume to pay attention to are ones that attach an ethnicity or a symbol of one’s culture to negative stereotype. This is evident in suicide bomber costumes that have keffiyehs. This attaches a Middle Eastern tradition with the stigma of terrorism.

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These categories act as guidelines and the deconstruction and analysis of costumes are not limited by them. Before we point fingers this Halloween, remember many students might not know the implications of their costume. A student group at Ohio University created a powerful campaign to illustrate “we’re a culture, not a costume.” These posters can also serve as guidelines as to whether a Halloween costume might offend someone. For the rest of the month, these posters will also be hung throughout the Multicultural Student Center and other Red Gym offices.

Images from:
Images from:

For more interesting takes on insensitive Halloween costumes, check out the links below
Dear Cultural Appropriatorsthis post by The Angry Asian Man, and a video on costume #FAILS by Franchesca Ramsey.

Featured Image Source: 1

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ryan says:

    I do not believe that Halloween costumes fit the definition of cultural appropriation. If someone claims that my costume is racist because it is “appropriating a culture,” then they are already stereotyping a group of people. For all anyone knows (without stereotyping), I identify with that culture and have every right to represent it. The attached video is biased as it intrinsically links culture to race with its afro example. It begs the question: Since I am not a member of a particular race/culture, I am not allowed to express myself through wearing something that is generally worn by members of that race/culture? I understand that there is a small chance that a person with a specific identity could become offended by a Halloween costume, but this is not an excuse to attack people’s freedom of expression by crying racism over a dress-up day. Besides, worrying about if a costume could possibly offend someone is antithetical to the fun that Halloween is supposed to be. This “movement” is happening across college campuses, and simply Googling “liberals and Halloween” returns pages of articles of how cultural appropriation should not be used to attack people for their costume choices.

    Liked by 1 person

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