When I was a kid, ethnic stereotypes often made their way into Halloween costumes. It was a more innocently ignorant time, when dressing as a “Mexican Bandito”, and “Indian” or a “cannibal” was seen as OK.
Here, for example, is a scene from a costume party in the 1983 comedy Trading Places.
It is no longer okay. Especially not in the present era, where multicultural communities and digital media put us in contact with each other every day. It was bad enough when a bunch of white kids reinforced each other’s ideas about cartoon stereotypes of other cultures. It is even worse when those cultures have to see themselves lampooned.
That’s why I think this campaign by Ohio University’s Students Teaching Against Racism (STARS) is a needed one. Particularly considering the current climate of racism in the United States (as elsewhere in the developed world) against immigrants in general, domestic ethnic minorities, indigenous people and most recently against followers of Islam.
While a campaign like this will not stop racism, it can at least encourage people who are shy to speak out against hurtful stereotypes they see at parties to do something about it. And maybe then these caricatures, which continue to reinforce xenophobic myths and distrust about what “those people” are like, can start to be denormalized.
From the Eternal Sunshine blog, “These posters act as a public service announcement for colored communities. It’s about respect, human dignity, and the acceptance of other cultures (these posters simply ask people to think before they choose their Halloween costume). Although some Halloween costumes aren’t as racist as the blackface minstrel shows back in the day, they harken to similar prejudices. What these costumes have in common is that they make caricatures out of cultures, and that is simply not okay.”
After the break: “Ghetto” African-American, Indian Chief, Geisha and Bandito.
I think a person dressing up has to answer this question: Is this a positive or a negative aspect of the culture I’m representing? It’s fun to pretend to be someone or something you’re not, but if you wouldn’t do it for a week in real life, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons. It’s not just harmless dress up, it’s a statement about how people should be seen.
Posted by Yvonne Buffington | 29-10-2011 19:25
This is honestly absurd.
This is right on par with getting offended when someone wishes you “merry christmas” or says bless you when you sneeze.
I’m of a middle eastern heritage myself, and I was teased and bullied in school, but I don’t get up in arms because some guy thought it’d be funny to dress up as a terrorist.
Now, if he sincerely believes that I am a terrorist because I’m brown, that has nothing to do with the costume. That’s a fault within he himself.
Besides, anyone who looks at one of those costumes and says “So THAT’S what that culture is like!” has problems far and beyond simply making costumes more conservative.
This uber-political-correctness in Canada and the States is ridiculous and needs to stop. While there is defending ones rights and quelling racism and harassment, this is too far.
Posted by RMZ | 31-10-2011 07:12
One thing I am sick and tired of hearing is people who are people of color on message boards saying that “I am [insert underrepresented race/ethnicity] but I dressed up as [insert stereotypical costume], and it’s not a big deal to me, so lighten up!” I am sure that many, if not all of these people, have experienced so much racism in their actual everyday lives and have consumed so much mainstream racist pop culture so much to the point that they have internalized it all and are not even aware of how brainwashed they have become; that they cannot even see racism right in front of their face or even when they are wearing it on their own skin. They stereotype their own image—their own race/culture, people. That’s deeply internalized self-hate if I ever saw it. So deep that they don’t even know it. It’s pathetic, disturbing, and most of all just sad. What a sad world we live in that not only do we still have racists left and right but people of color who continue to internally hate and disrespect themselves because of these exact stereotypes that are becoming more and more accepted because they are being paraded around as “fun” or “costumes” and people are claiming “stereotypes are a normal fact of life” (WTF?). Halloween is more and more becoming a subconscious self-expression of not only people’s racism and prejudice or ignorance of others, but also some people’s own self-hate because of the institionalized discrimination of people of color in mainstream media and culture that continually conditions mainstream American society to normalize racist stereotypes. It becomes a vicious cycle that will never end so long as people continue trivializing by saying “lighten up”, “get a life” when we are talking about cultures and real people. NO- I don’t need to lighten up because if I don’t take myself seriously nobody else will. No - I don’t need to lighten up because I am in the minority in America and I do get treated differently for my race/ethnicity. And I do have a life because I do care about these issues that affect many people. If you are ignoring real people who are being seriously offended and not taking the time to educate yourself about cultural differences and the history of discrimination in america and how it’s evolved into it’s current state in 2011—THEN YOU NEED TO GET A LIFE. Life is NOT just about “lightening up” and partying and dressing up as whatever you want just because you don’t want to take the time to think about your actions and how it affects people. So to all you ignorant folks out there, YES leading a real life does mean USING YOUR BRAIN every once in a while. Stop demonizing political correctness just because YOU’RE OFFENDED that WE’RE OFFENDED. That is called blaming the victim and it’s a real sociological problem. So YOU get a life, and while you’re at it please also find where you lost your own sense of human decency and respect for others.
Posted by ralphb234 | 31-10-2011 09:19
Very interesting that there are only two comments on this, two on either side. In reference to the blog, and to the commenters, I don’t, personally, think that we can blame either all the “majority/white” people or the “ethnic culturally oppressed minorities” for all of the prolems encircling prejudice and stereotypes. I think that it is safe to say there can be a little bit of both at play at different times. Ignorance and insensitivity on the majority’s part, and maybe some overreacting on the minorities’ part. Misunderstandings on both sides. I am curious to know what other people’s firsthand stories are in regards to being offended by costumes portraying a particular cultural stereotype or what not, because personally, I’ve never understood costumes like a geisha, or a Mexican cowboy, or a gangsta as defining what a whole people group is (based on their color, or cultural history). I don’t think that all Asian-looking or associated people dress or act (?) like geishas, because I know that geishas have a particular occupation, in a particular asian culture, and dressed a certain way. Whether they still do, or if that was just in History, I’m not sure of. I think that the issue really comes in the way that the person dressing up is portraying the role they’re dressed in, or the words they use to describe their costume. If someone is dressed as a geisha and they say “I’m dressed as an Asian for Halloween,” I can see where that would be offensive, and uninformed. If they say “I’m a Geisha however,” that’s just a particular person of a particular occupation. If someone dressed as a business man in a suit with a briefcase and said “I’m a white American man” or something, that would be weird, because it’s assuming that all people that look a certain way, or that are in a certain culture, have the same occupation. Does this make sense? I’d honestly like to know. If the picture where the African-American girl is holding up a pic of someone dressed in a rapper? gangster? costume has a picture of someone who has painted their skin brown (which it kind of looks like, but I can’t tell) that is akin to dressing in a certain style, or occupation that exists commonly with a certain skin color (and not even just in dark skin colors) and saying that they are dressing “black,” and assuming that all people of a certain group are one way. I personally have dressed up in a certain “Style” or in a certain theme of ethnic clothing, which was authentic clothing mind you, and never said that I was portraying the whole of a culture, or skin color, but that I was dressing in a certain style, and I BELIEVE I did so tastefully, as no one told me otherwise, but enjoyed the costumes. I am still very curious to hear some of the firsthand stories that this campaign came out of, though, since I have not heard any as of now.
Posted by anonymous | 16-10-2012 03:38
There are many areas to address. I would welcome a similar campaign addressed at the universal demeaning portrayal of women which is much less addressed, much more accepted in daily media and much more damaging to 50% of the world’s population. A picture of a skinny celeb with big fake boobs and a plastic face, with a real woman holding it saying, “We are people, not products. This is NOT who I am and this is NOT ok” No? No, no-one sees the constant, overwhelming and destructive misogyny that pervades the entire world. If this much contempt were directed against an ethnic group, it would show up for what it is - a tidal wave of undeserved hatred, scorn and prejudice against millions of people simply because of the way they were born.
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