Halloween is fast approaching, and students are gearing up for finding the perfect costume for the holiday. Characters from pop culture and historical figures are popular choices for costumes, as are costumes that imitate a stereotype, such as nerd costumes or jock costumes.
Stereotype costumes that target personality traits or interests can be tastefully done, and are often funny. Costumes that target people of specific races and ethnicities are constituted as cultural appropriation, which is the opposite of funny.
Race can’t be taken off, but a costume can. The struggles that non-white people faced and still face today in the U.S. because of their race are belittled when people treat a skin color and a culture like a costume.
Dressing up in a sombrero and a fake mustache makes a person about as authentically Mexican as Taco Bell, and it’s just as offensive to try to claim otherwise.
Beyond being a slap in the face to the people whose cultures, families and lives get reduced to a bad joke, these costumes ignore something fundamental about how race and ethnicity works in the United States.
Another popular stereotype costume is that of a “thug” or a “gangsta,” which is typically put on by white people who view “being ghetto” as a fun, exciting escape from their lives.
Mike Brown, John Crawford and VonDerrick Myers, young black men who were all shot and killed by police, were often called “thugs” or accused of gang affiliation online by people trying to justify their deaths.
The “sexy Native princess” is another common costume nowadays. Harkening back to the common argument used by supporters of Native mascots for sports teams, the people who wear them claim to honor or keep alive the culture they are appropriating.
Sexualizing Native women with these costumes contributes to the fact that 1 out of every 3 Native American and Indigenous women in the U.S. will be victims of sexual assault.
That is twice the national average of assaults faced by women on a national scale, according to RAINN.
Making cheap replicas of ceremonial costumes, such as the war bonnet, also disrespects the serious nature of how they were worn and earned by actual Native Americans.
Exploiting stereotypes in order to dress up for a night or two of fun shows an ignorance about the circumstances in which we live as a society.
We all need to keep the realities of oppressed people in mind when picking a costume, and encourage those around us to think twice before buying that sexy geisha costume or gangsta costume for Halloween.