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We’re a culture, not a costume

We’re a culture, not a costume

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.

Update: video is removed from YouTube.

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.

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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.

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photos for poster

photos for poster

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(Thanks to Ads of The World‘s Ivan Raszl for the tip)

UPDATE: This campaign has quickly spawned its own parody meme.


Don’t feel bad, STARS. It’s a sign of breakthrough success.

UPDATE 2: MTV Canada celebrity Aliya-Jasmine Sovani (who has Persian and African-Indian heritage) posted this Halloween picture of herself “as a white girl” on her blog and Facebook page.


Is this the same thing? Or is it different? Let’s talk about this stuff.

Ohio University called Students Teaching Against Racism (STARS)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (blog)

I am Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. Read more
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