Halloween is a favorite holiday amongst many, given that it is one of the only days you get to dress up as almost anything you want as well as eat as many candies as you desire without judgment. Many people take the planning of their Halloween costumes very seriously to the extent they plan way in advance. However, while brainstorming costume outfits, it is important to keep in mind that your costume should not make anyone feel uncomfortable or disrespected. Most often than we like, we may come across costumes that overstep the boundary between what is funny and what is outright offensive. It is important to be mindful of how we can spoil the festivities for others just by simply being ignorant of what is appropriate and what is not.
Some costumes may be more overtly offensive compared to others. That is why this article will explain how some of the costumes that tend to not be considered offensive are offensive. Social injustices, minority groups, natural disasters, and more should not be turned into a joke simply because it can remind someone of their own trauma. As for cultural beliefs and traditions, if you don't belong to or claim that culture, then do not wear it as a costume. Their culture and traditions are a lifestyle that deserves nothing but respect.
COVID-19 Pandemic Costumes
A lot was lost this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 200,000 people (and rising) have died in the United States because of it. This traumatic event is not a costume. It has hurt many people's lives in a variety of ways. Do not be insensitive and wear a medical hazard suit or anything resembling a virus because you do not know how other people have been affected by it.
Body-shaming and Objectifying Costumes
If you think that your costume is nothing but funny and only a joke, think about how it would feel telling that joke to someone you care about. If you would not tell them, then do not wear it. Costumes that make fun of someone's weight or disrespects a woman by turning them into a sexual object is far from being funny.
Cultural Stereotype Costumes
Dressing up as a member of a culture that isn't your own as a costume can be interpreted in two ways: cultural appropriation or making fun of other cultures. It is important to take into account racial and cultural sensitivity when thinking about your costumes. If the costume is based on a specific character (e.g., Moana or Maui), make sure to not dress in a stereotypical way. Rather than going for the generalized combos such as the grass skirt and coconut top, make sure your costume is clearly linked to the specific character you want to dress up as.
Dressing up as a gender presentation other than what you identify as is not a great idea because it can spread the incorrect idea that Trans people are "pretending to be" another gender. Costumes like the ones above are not funny. It is unfair that marginalized groups can not express who they truly are without being unsafe while privileged folk take it as a joke.
Anything Involving Blackface
Blackface is NEVER okay. Now, if you're thinking, "But it's just a costume", then your culture and/or identity has never been mocked or trivialized. Dehumanizing folks and their identity through “jokes” and costumes is its own form of oppression. Do not darken your skin even if you do not intend to mock a racial group. There is no way of separating blackface from its horrific historical context.
Mic reported that the total incarcerated population in the U.S. is a "staggering 2.4 million — a 500 percent increase over the past 30 years." Aside from the US having the highest prisoner rate, they also disproportionately affect Black men as seen with the expectation that three out of four young black men in Washington, D.C., are expected to serve time behind bars. Moreover, eighty percent of defendants cannot afford a lawyer which ultimately leads to thousands of people going to jail every year without ever talking to a lawyer or going to trial. Clearly, prison and jail are not something to make fun of.
Mentally Ill Person Costumes
Sometimes, we are not aware that some of our words or actions are rather offensive and stereotypical. We often find ourselves utilizing the term "crazy" to describe a person; however, rarely do we stop to think about how this might make someone living with a mental illness feel. Halloween costumes that are related to the institutionalization of people with mental illnesses mocks and undermines their own personal struggles. They can also lead a person to relieve their traumatic experiences. Be mindful of what you wear and how your costume can represent a group of people.
Sexual Harassment Costumes
Through a series of events including the #MeToo movement, awareness of how sexual harassment jokes are not funny has increased. As a reminder, someone who exposes themselves, literally or as a "joke" through a costume like the one above, to non-consenting viewers isn't just inappropriate and indecent but very traumatic harassment. These kinds of costumes can trigger someone who has been previously sexually harassed and offend many people. Be a decent human being and choose your costume wisely.
As you hopefully learned, there are many problematic costumes that can cause discomfort and trauma for different folk. Although you may not entirely understand why and you might not do it with bad intentions, appropriative costumes that perpetuate stereotypes and contribute to oppression should be avoided at all costs.
There are many more costumes that can be added to this list, these are just a few. It is our responsibility to be cognizant of what we are wearing this Halloween, and hold ourselves and others accountable when harm is done.
Wear a mask, stay safe, stay healthy, and have fun!
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