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Fashionably Informed: Culturally and Racially Offensive Halloween Costumes


Welcome to College Fashion’s biweekly column, Fashionably Informed. As a CF reader, it’s clear that you love fashion. But have you ever wondered about the drama that goes on behind the scenes? To keep you up to speed, this column aims to inform you about important issues and controversies in the fashion industry.

In case you missed them, see past posts on Retouching & Photoshopping, Tanning Promotion in the Media, Hypocrisy in Beauty Marketing, Racism in the Modeling Industry, “White-Washing” & Skin Lightening, Homosexuality in the Fashion Industry, Cultural Appropriation & Stereotyping in Retail Fashion, and Underage Models on the Runway and in Editorials.

STARS Poster Campaign 2012
Poster from STARS 2012 Campaign | Photo Credit

On a recent Fashionably Informed article about Cultural Appropriation & Stereotyping in Retail Fashion, many of you asked why Halloween costumes were not mentioned. So today, we are going to focus on the cultural issues to consider when choosing your costume.  

Although not directly related to fashion, Halloween is among the most exciting days of the year for us college students. As you read this, you are probably making your plans and deciding which costume you are going to wear (or maybe you’ve had your costume planned for weeks).

However, this holiday isn’t filled with fun for everyone. Many people find certain Halloween costumes offensive because they portray a race or culture in a negative and/or stereotypical way. Some of these costumes are sold by popular retailers, while others may be handmade.

With the first “Halloweekend” upon us, now is the perfect time to raise awareness about racially and culturally insensitive costumes. This post aims to do just that.

Recent Examples of Offensive Halloween Costumes

Kohl's Ghetto Fab Wig
Kohl’s “Ghetto Fab” Wig | Photo Credit

Over the past few years, a number of retailers, from Kohl’s to Walgreens, have been accused of selling racially and culturally insensitive costumes.

In response these offensive costumes, news outlet The Root produced a slideshow of offensive costumes and accessories. The first slide features Kohl’s “Ghetto Fab” Wig (pictured above). The Root criticizes the wig, saying,

Oh, thank you for calling it fabulous! Since you threw in that compliment, it’s now totally fine to call what appears to be a natural head of curly hair “ghetto.” To the Kohl’s costume buyer who chose this one: Your “Ignorant Awesome” costume is on its way.

The slideshow also includes a costume that depicts the stereotypical representation of a Hispanic man. The “Hey Amigo” costume consists of a poncho, sombrero, and mustache, and is finished off with a donkey around the wearer’s waist.

Another costume named in the slideshow is “Adult Beer Belly Men’s White Trash,” which is meant to portray a man who is considered “White Trash,” a stereotype of low-income Caucasians. This costume consists of a beer belly and overalls.

Popular blog Racialicious has also addressed insensitive costumes. In their “Halloween Round-up,” the blog provides a few examples. The list includes Walgreens’ “Illegal Alien” costume, which is a costume made up of an alien mask, an orange jumpsuit, and a fake green card.

Also on Racialicious, Adrienne Keene provides a personal perspective on the situation in her open letter to “[People] that decided to dress up as an Indian for Halloween. The writer gives examples of Halloween costumes that portray Native American culture in a stereotypical way. She also offers her personal feelings on these costumes, saying:

The most frustrating part to me is, there are so many other things you can dress up as for Halloween. You can be a freaking sexy scrabble board for goodness sake. But why does your fun have to come at the expense of my well-being? Is your night of drunken revelry really worth subjugating an entire group of people? I just can’t understand, how after hearing, first-hand, that your choice is hurtful to another human being, you’re able to continue to celebrate with your braids and plastic tomahawk.

Campaign Against Offensive Halloween Costumes

STARS 2011 Poster Campaign
STARS 2011 Poster Campaign | Photo Credit

In response to the popularity of offensive costumes on campus, students at Ohio University started a campaign against racially insensitive Halloween costumes.

The organization, called Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS), began a poster campaign in 2011 (pictured above). On their website, the organization shares their mission statement:

The purpose of S.T.A.R.S. is to facilitate discussion about diversity and all isms (sexism, classism, heterosexism, ethnocentrism etc.) with an emphasis on racial issues. We aim to raise awareness about social justice, and promote racial harmony. Our job is to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings.

As part of their mission to promote racial harmony and cultural awareness, STARS created the poster campaign, “We are a Culture, Not a Costume.” These posters featured young adults of different racial and cultural backgrounds holding up photographs of people wearing costumes that stereotyped their respective cultures and races. Each poster includes the statement “This is not who I am, and this is not okay.”

A CBC article on the STARS campaign quoted Alison Chasteen, a professor who studies stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. She describes the effects that these costumes can have, saying,

We know from past research that exposure to stereotypical images can activate stereotypes in people’s minds and influence their subsequent behaviour. That is why efforts such as this one in Ohio are needed to educate people about racist images in an attempt to reduce stereotypical portrayals of minority groups.

Recently, STARS released their 2012 poster campaign. (One 2012 poster is featured at top of this article.) These posters follow a similar format to the 2011 campaign, however, instead of being depicted in photographs, wearers of culturally insensitive costumes stand behind the people they negatively “represent.” This year, the text on the posters says, “You wear the costume for one night. I wear the stigma for life.”

Counter-Responses to the STARS Campaign

Although the “We are a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign received strong support from the media and individuals across the nation, some people believed that the campaign was taking Halloween too seriously.

The Stir posted an article about the campaign, which was titled “Students Against Racist Halloween Costumes Are Ruining the Holiday.” In response to the students’ campaign, the author writes,

While the students are making an important point about the need to be culturally sensitive — and not just on Halloween but on the other 364 days of the year — they’re doing it in such a way that spoils the spirit of the holiday. In most instances, people dressing up for Halloween are doing it for fun and laughs. Of course, I can’t speak for everyone involved, but rarely do people choose Halloween costumes with a malicious intention. This poster campaign suggests otherwise.

This author was not alone in feeling at that the campaign “spoils the spirit of the holiday.” After the posters were published on Tumblr and 4chan, parody posters were created and circulated online, turning into a bona fide internet meme, according to Know Your Meme.

These parodies mock the STARS campaign by photoshopping Halloween costumes and alter-egos they supposedly “represent” into the STARS poster format.  One example, posted on Know Your Meme, depicts a golden retriever holding up a picture of a person dressed in a dog costume. Other parodies include the Daleks from Doctor Who and Dracula.

In response, Racialicious blogged about the criticism of the STARS campaign. At the end of their article, the author writes,

But see, here’s the thing, People Who Defend Racist Costumes: you all are proving STARS’—and Racialicious’—point…and quite well.

Easy Alternatives

While the debate rages on about costumes that represent a certain race or culture, we think it’s important to remember that there are millions of costumes out there that won’t offend anyone! Here are some CF articles to help you find the perfect costume that everyone will love:

What do you think?

Do you find these examples of costumes offensive? Have you noticed costumes on your campus that negatively stereotype a race or culture? How do you feel about STARS’ “We are a culture, Not a Costume” Campaign? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted on on October 26, 2012 / Filed Under: Fashion News / Tags: , , , , , ,

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64 Responses to “Fashionably Informed: Culturally and Racially Offensive Halloween Costumes”

  1. 1
    October 26th, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    This is ridiculous. *Everything* can be offensive if you find the right person. It’s okay to complain about ridiculing certain races, but the alternative is to over-stereotype geeks? I don’t get upset when people stereotype Geeks, or Irish, or Germans, or Americans, despite the many negative stereotypes associated with all of these things. People should be considerate of others, but others cannot be so sensitive as to limit everything. We are not France; we are not secular for fear of offending others, as it quickly descends into oppression instead of freedom. I don’t care if it’s a costume, a joke, politics, or religion. Get over yourself and realize that everything has a stereotype.

  2. 2
    October 26th, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    I’m not a Roma, but I have seen people dress like Gypsies and never liked it.

  3. 3
    October 26th, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    This is a GREAT topic!
    I agree 100% sometimes the spirit of Halloween can be taken too far, for example when people dress in Burqas or Nun Costumes, as if they were mocking their choice of modesty. I personally find that offensive. Especially the costumes with racial references, those shouldn’t even be sold.

  4. 4
    October 26th, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    The fault that I always find with the “counterargument” is that being racist is only related with having a “malicious intent.” Like you’re only racist if you dress in KKK robes. Racism comes in many different extremes, and it’s not so easy to detect if you’re the one dressing in these costumes. As I’ve become more aware of social justice issues, I’ve realized I’ve made racist comments or assumptions in the past–often without malicious intent.

    I have found people often get very defensive when these “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” posters come around, and they start claiming that it’s taking the fun out of Halloween. But really, if these costumes truly offend the people who belong to these cultures, is it honestly a detriment to your fun if you have to dress up as something else?

  5. 5
    October 26th, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Great article! Cultural appropriation is rampant on Halloween and more people need to be educated about it. is a great source for finding respectufl and tasteful Halloween costumes of historical figures and important women in history if anyone is interested.

  6. 6
    October 26th, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Ive seen the ghetto fab wig in a halloween store just the other night and thought how often people see hair like ghat as ghetto and these stereotypes do hurt. And its just not targeting one race for many of these brands make wigs that is upsetting to all creed of people.

  7. 7
    October 26th, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Some people don’t really get that when dressing as a nun, geisha, native American etc it is not normally done to mock them. I am native and I don’t take offense. They are dressing as something that they LIKE, normally something they think is pretty. You might as well make Halloween obsolete if you can’t dress as anything because it could possibly be offensive. I also have alopecia and have no hair on my head but I don’t find every one wearing a wig Or a bald cap offensive, they’re doing it because they like it, its part of a costume.

  8. 8
    October 26th, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    There are some very culturally and racially insensitive costumes out there (who in the marketing dept actually thought “ghetto fab” was a good idea??), but some of these people come off as a little butthurt.

  9. 9
    October 26th, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    I must agree with the counter-response to the STARS campaign. Cultural awareness is important, but it is focusing on the wrong issue when the issue is, literally, a costume. People do not wear said costumes 1/365 of a year to demonstrate or to insult. It’s simply an identity they have never assumed and should not be taken with all seriousness and sensitivity! I also find it incredibly bothersome that the STARS campaign chose to mostly focus on racial stereotypes. By that definition, my choosing to dress as a Roman goddess, Marylin Monroe or a German bar wench instead of something with an Asian nationality should be an insult to Caucasians everywhere!

  10. 10
    October 26th, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    I agree with Karlee. Some people take offense way too easily. Halloween is meant to be fun, if you’re offended that easily just stay at home.

  11. 11
    October 26th, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Oh dear lord, the large majority of the costumes depicted aren’t even racial. They’re not dressing like “an asian girl”, they’re dressing like a geisha. They aren’t dressing like “a black person”, they’re dressed as a rapper. If a HIspanic person dresses like Paris Hilton for Halloween, is it considered offensive to all white people?

  12. 12
    October 26th, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    When I was a kid I dressed as a Native American as part of a school project where I learned about my half brother’s tribe and did a presentation on it for the class. I loved the outfit so much I wore it for Halloween too. I can never ever be a Native American but to my kid brain I was playing a role, like make believe. I’m sorry if someone took offense but we should add some context to this before blasting everyone. Usually costumes are meant to be fun, not mean. Sure some hipster wearing a headdress for a picture with alcohol is stupid and shameful and the ghetto wig is messed up… but do we really have to limit every little kid to dressing within their own culture? There should be boundaries but saying no to everything with a cultural context is pretty ridiculous.

  13. 13
    October 26th, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I think this is the most unnecessary campaign and is taking a silly holiday way too seriously. There are so many other more important instances where cultural awareness is actually an issue. Pretty much all Halloween costumes are a distorted and shallowed version of what they represent. If you’re going to get passionate about misrepresentation of a culture, race, what have you, address problems that actually are issues that pervade our society and affect people’s lives, not some stupid costume a person wore one or two nights in a year.

  14. 14
    October 26th, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Clearly I can’t speak for others, but I’m a Jewish member of the LGBT community, and when I see someone dress as a jew or a gay man or a lesbian or a bisexual (or a woman, for that matter) I don’t get offended at all. Sure, it’s stereotypical – but it’s not supposed to be offensive. It’s not like the person is singling me out for some of my qualities – they’re just dressing up. Mind you, I have seen racially offensive costumes that even offended me when I wasn’t a part of that group – so I guess it depends. There’s a level of stereotyping that’s just playful – but it can go too far.

  15. 15
    October 26th, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    I agree with Raleigh.
    If dressing up as a rapper could be considered racially offensive, then doesn’t that make Eminem just entirely wrong in every way? If you’re going to get annoyed about racially and ethnically offensive costumes, you need to get annoyed about all costumes. What if mobsters are offended that we dress up as them? Or celebrities? Or a German barmaid? or a regular maid? Or Justin Bieber? Or a pregnant girl (Juno)? Or the women’s gymnastics team? A few of those are ones you posted, and they are given many stereotypes and opinions that could be problematic just like the ones at issue here. What does a teen dressing up as a cute Native American say worse than a teen who dresses up as a pregnant woman? Seriously, most people choose things they like or wish they were. I dressed up as a Norwegian Milk Maid a couple years back… is that the same? Maybe. But I did it because I love Norwegian style and culture. So go ahead and say I’m wrong, but I do not regret it.

  16. 16
    October 26th, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    In addition to my previous comment, I’d like to state that there is a way to cross the line. For example… Illegal Alien. That’s pretty offensive. I don’t support all costumes that have ever been made ever. But it seems some people are just looking for controversy when they get into things like Geisha’s and Native Americans. These groups have STYLE that people love to have a chance to imitate. Make sure to take into account the compliment this pays as well as the problems some feel it causes.

  17. 17
    October 26th, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    I love these articles- keep it up!

  18. 18
    October 26th, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    I agree with many others here. Halloween is one night of the year-a night to dress up as something other than yourself. It’s supposed to be taken as fun and lighthearted. It’s not supposed to be taken seriously.
    The thing I think is sad is that so many people DO get offended. I hate to see people get upset, but again it’s just in good fun. Which we could all use a little bit of these days. I’m white-go ahead and dress up as a dorky accountant or a slutty american idol contestant. Be whatever you want-whatever color, shape, or size you want. I’ll laugh my butt off and be right there with you. This year I’m a banana…I wonder who that will offend? Meat eaters?

  19. 19
    October 26th, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Should nurses and police officers be offended by the Slutty costume versions? At least when a person dresses as an Indian they aren’t being intentionally demeaning …

  20. 20
    October 26th, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Wait, I was planning on going as a ’20s flapper girl….does this mean I am stereotyping and degrading women who lived in the 20s? No? But if I chose to go as a geisha, I would be stereotyping and degrading all Japanese women…..
    If I want to dress up as someone from another race, you’re telling me I can’t do that? Isn’t that racist? Because guess what – if I want to go as Nitta Sayuri from Memoirs of a Geisha, I’m not going to be able to afford to pay $$$ for the real Japanese costume, and I’m not going to be able to master the art of Geisha makeup and hair – so it’s going to be incorrect. Just like I couldn’t afford to buy an actual 1920s flapper dress and my 1920s makeup is probably going to be a little off and my hair is going to be very different because it’s not bobbed – so yes, it’s going to be incorrect and stereotypical.
    If Halloween costumes weren’t stereotypical, they wouldn’t be recognizable…..also, stereotypes are correct most of the time which is why they are stereotypes. Halloween isn’t a political statement it’s just a fun time to dress up. Even the “racist” costumes like the “Illegal Alien” are funny because they’re puns…..I’m sure going as a “Deviled Egg” is offensive to people who worship Satan, right?

    Just a side note, but what does offend me on Halloween is the obsession with “sexy” costumes that sexualize women and young girls.

  21. 21
    October 27th, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Personally, none of these are as offensive to me as one that I take as a personal insult – the “sexy/slutty cop” costume. As a real law enforcement officer, I’m working in a field that, nationally, women make up only 14% of the total workforce (much less in my area – I would guess maybe 5% here) – and, since Sir Robert Peel founded the first police force as we recognize it two hundred years ago, women have been largely prevented from entering at all until relatively recently, and for the first couple decades were largely expected to be secretaries. I have to fight against people (sometimes literally) who don’t believe I can do my job because I’m a woman, or make jokes about what I can use my handcuffs for. Do costumes like “slutty cop” advance me in any way? Absolutely not!

    While we’re at it, get rid of all costumes that make women in serious, professional occupations look like idiots. We’ve put in too much training, too many hours, and too much effort, to allow our careers to be belittled by such stupidity. I’m part Native American, and I really don’t care if you want to dress as an Indian as long as you do it in a culturally sensitive manner (don’t make jokes about alcohol and casinos all night) but respect the work people put into their careers.

  22. 22
    October 27th, 2012 at 6:18 am

    I also think it depends on the costume itself. Dressing up as a rapper or as a black person, or worse a slave, are totally different things.
    If people get offended by every kind of costume thats based on a stereotype, there aren’t many left.
    I’m from Europe, from Vienna, I have no problem with people dressing up in Dirndl/Lederhosen or as Sissy or Mozart on halloween.
    What bothers me more are the drunk and ignorant tourists that are wearing our traditional clothes on Oktroberfest and behave badly. There are modern Dirndl and traditional ones, that even tell where you grew up etc. Every year some people manage to buy a traditional one instead of the modern one and i feel bad for the city or the region where that Dirndl comes from.
    I think it’s the same for other countries, there are many different ways to wear a stereotype.

  23. 23
    October 27th, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I think it’s going a bit far too be honest; as said above, you’re not dressing up as an Asian person, just a geisha, which is one part of a rich cultural history. It’s light-hearted and playful. If we go into this, then you have to consider every costume. Dressing up as a police officer would be seen as offensive to those who risk their lives, same for the army… it would just go on and on. Even your Juno costume could be seen as offensive to pregnant teens. I understand it must be difficult and frustrating if you feel your culture is being portrayed negatively, but I think the real issue with Halloween costumes is the so called ‘slut rule’, especially on campus. Women are feeling pressured into buying skimpy costumes and it’s hard to find pretty ones that aren’t suggestive if you’re buying. Making one yourself is an option, but it’s such a big part of Halloween and dressing up in general that it’s difficult to move away from. That should be an issue addressed by all of us, as most of the ‘offensive’ costumes are also overly sexualised, and I think that doesn’t help if people already feel offended by cultural stereotypes.

    But I do agree that there is a line. It’s not okay to paint yourself a different colour or go as a member of the SS (which I have seen far too often). However, its difficult to know where to draw it.

  24. 24
    October 27th, 2012 at 8:05 am

    I personally have a large hate for the ‘sexy’ theme of costumes, espeically sexy professions (sexy nurse, sexy scientist, sexy lawyer whatever) it just reinforces diminishes the work that some professional woman have put in to be taken seriously, and puts forward the message that woman are incapable of achiving these professions by themselves, it just irks me so much

  25. 25
    October 27th, 2012 at 8:52 am

    I think it can go both ways…
    At an international party last year, we were all supposed to get dressed up as stereotypes from our own country and even though some of them really weren’t PC, it was hilarious!
    However, when you are intentionally mocking another culture or group, that’s just silly.

  26. 26
    October 27th, 2012 at 9:55 am

    I worked retail at a Halloween costume store for about 3 weeks (I change jobs a lot), and everytime a customer asked for a “PocaHottie” costume, it took all my self-control to not chew them out for their choice.

    The people trying them on were typically Cauciasian females, and none of them seemed overly concerned about how their choice affected a culture – just if their boyfriend would like it.

    Seriously, if you admire Native Americans, don’t choose to an “Indian” – be a historical figure, like the legit Pocahontas. And then DO THE COSTUME RIGHT; in garments she actually would have worn, not the Disney version of them.

  27. 27
    October 27th, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I think it is so much less about the actual costume and more about the attitude. I do know people who take it too far with acting like that’s what all members of that culture dress or act like. But most of the time it just means they think that a certain style they’ve seen is pretty and they want to imitate it for a night. I used to dress a little “alternative” and my roommate literally borrowed all my clothes and was a punk for Halloween. I wasn’t offended. I thought it was funny.

  28. 28
    October 27th, 2012 at 11:26 am

    This article was pretty informative, but I agree with most of the posters. The costumes are of a certain “career” mostly found within a certain ethnicity: eg, Geisha. I don’t find something like that offensive because it doesn’t stereotype the whole Japanese ethnicity negatively. However, some of the costumes, like the one depicting a Middle Eastern person with a bomb strapped around him, is extremely offensive. So for costumes such as these, you have to look at each on an individual basis. If the costume is labeled as “Pocahontas”, it shouldn’t be seen as offensive at all, but if the same costume is labeled “Native American”, then it’s crossing into “stereotypical”. Also, I think it’s ok to wear a “stereotypical and offensive” costume if you’re part of the group that the costume is stereotyping, eg, a Chinese person dressing up as a peasant with triangular hat, flipflops, glasses and buck teeth.

  29. 29
    October 27th, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Wow. My hair looks almost exactly like the “ghetto fab” wig. That is very insulting.

    I do believe that people are not trying to be offensive and that Halloween should stay fun. However, some of these costumes are very rude, whether intentional or not. We should all make more of an effort to consider all perspectives and potential harm our costumes can do.

  30. 30
    October 27th, 2012 at 11:55 am

    I think it’s quite unnecessary 1. No matter what people campaign for, halloween or not, when has any country and any culture been able to rid themselves of their “stereotypes” throughout history? 2. It’s not just minorities that Americans dress up as for Halloween…some people dress up as Southern Belles (Civil War Era) and White Hillbillies. Does that mean that person automatically assumes all white girls from the south are Scarlett from Gone With The Wind still or that all white-americans are trailer trash?! Obviously not.

    Now the one exception to what I said above is actually offensive costumes. This would be: The middle easterner with bombs strapped to them or someone dressing up as a black slave, etc. There’s a difference and people just need to be aware of a certain line not to cross that’s all.

  31. 31
    October 27th, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    This issue needs to be viewed in the light of the whole, not just its separate parts. I find that many of these commenters are taking this entirely too personally, instead of analyzing this on a larger, social level. Of course many of you aren’t racists–but other people, unfortunately, are.

    We have a responsibility as humans to protect our fellow man, and I believe that includes protecting our cultural and racial identities from those who would harm them.

  32. 32
    October 27th, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    I appreciate that this article, as well as the others on fashion controversy, are well-written and well-researched. However, I honestly think they are going overboard. Some issues in the fashion world, like body image and materialism, worry me far more than inaccurate, but not malicious, cultural reappropriation. These costumes do not imply any sort of racial or cultural superiority so I don’t see the harm.

  33. 33
    October 27th, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    I like this article and I do get why some of the costumes would be offensive. I think the terrorist one and the “ghetto fab” one are offensive because they actually perpetuate really negative stereotypes, and they are definitely politically incorrect. I’m not sure about the geisha costume though, since people sometimes try to dress up as accurate geishas for Halloween (in which case I don’t think it would be offensive).

    However, in contrast, I personally didn’t find the illegal alien one to be offensive at all, since they weren’t targeting any single group in particular (well… illegal immigrants I guess). I kind of found it to be a “pun” like when people dress up as a “black eyed pea” for Halloween (because illegal alien is an actual term – they just made a costume of the literal meaning of the two words).

    I therefore think that this type of issue can be based largely on personal opinions and experiences. I guess the obvious answer is that there is no straight answer or solution to this problem, since different people will find different things offensive.

    However, I think one good guideline for people to go by would be to try to avoid costumes that portray a specific group in an exclusively negative light.

    I hope that makes sense…

  34. 34
    October 27th, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Great article. The terrorist one, geisha and some of the other ones are very offensive, and I know they would be to my friends also who are from those cultural groups. When you are mocking another culture or ethnic group, it’s not “fun” or “lighthearted” anymore.

  35. 35
    October 27th, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    I understand how people can be offended by cultural-based costumes. But at the same time, it limits what I have the ability to wear. Being a white, female, this article makes it seem that it is inappropriate for me to dress as any character that isn’t white or female. Everything can offend someone ,but people need to realize that sometimes (like Halloween) its just for fun – its not meant to offend an entire society. This year I’m going as a vegetable, so I hope that doesn’t offend vegetables, but in the future when I want to dress as a person, I am not going to exclude wearing costumes that portray others races and ethnicities.

  36. 36
    October 27th, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Oh so because an African American woman wears her hair naturally curled, it’s caled “ghetto” when we all know many other women would kill to have hair like that? And the illegal alien costume??? How’s that even funny!

    I’m glad you brought this up because you never see costumes like these. It’s just stupid that any retailer would think its okay to sell stuff like that! I mean, how is it funny (unless they’re laughing out loud over how stereotypical they can be)! There’s nothing ghetto about wearing your hair naturally curled (I do it all the time and I’m never considered ghetto amongst my black and white friends). There’s nothing funny about wearing a stereotypical outfit portraying a Hispanic man (when in history do we see Hispanic men looking like that anyways?) and there’s nothing funny about being an illegal alien because its rude and stupid!

  37. 37
    October 27th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Looking at those three posters that you have put up here, I agree with Raleigh up there that I (personally) don’t believe that dressing as a rapper or a geisha is offensive – but then, after clicking the link and seeing the other posters, I think we can all agree that blacking up/wearing glasses that make your eyes look Asian definitely IS offensive and in bad taste. On the other hand, hardly any people that I know or have seen on Halloween wear these kinds of costumes – and if they are, they probably ARE doing it to be offensive. I have heard of some students throwing “bad taste” parties, where being offensive is the whole point. So yeah, there is a definite line (and sadly, some people don’t mind crossing it)

  38. 38
    October 27th, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    The problem with all of the costumes on the poster is that they reinforce negative stereotypes that are in our society today and keep us all ignorant. There is an entire Latino culture that is not just represented by a man wearing a sombrero and riding a burro. As a high school student, I think that these Halloween costumes highlight the stereotypes that we already see in schools today. For example, somebody used the word “butthurt” in a comment about this article. To me, this is just out of ignorance. It’s a word directly targetting people who identify as gay. We have no idea of knowing who we hurt with these micro-aggressions, but if we know that it may hurt someone, why take the risk?

  39. 39
    October 27th, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I feel like there is a big difference between dressing up like specific person and dressing up as a cultural stereotype.” Frida Kahlo for Halloween = okay, random Mexican for Halloween = not okay. Bob Marley for Halloween = okay, anonymous black person for Halloween = not okay. Sacajawea (sp?) for Halloween = okay, “Native American” = not okay (do you even know what tribe you are trying to portray? sheesh!)

  40. 40
    October 27th, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I have never commented before but I feel the need to comment now.

    I have dressed up as Pocahontas for Halloween (the Disney movie version) not because I support Native American domestic violence or alcohol abuse. But because she was a strong, beautiful woman who was a great inspiration as a child because she was smarter than her Disney “prince”. Dressing up made me feel empowered, not because I was degrading a culture, but because I was trying to emulate someone I admired.

  41. 41
    October 27th, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I concur with Jess.

  42. 42
    October 27th, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    It’s not dressing like a rapper that’s offensive it’s painting your skin darker which brings up uncomfortable connotations of “blackface” if you don’t know what that is then Google is your friend. Also just because YOU don’t find something offensive or see why someone gets upset over something doesn’t make it any less offensive to that person. If you can’t understand that other people don’t always feel like you or haven’t felt marginalized because they’re a minority then I really don’t know what to tell you other than not everything is about you. You can emulate and admire someone from another culture other than yours but there are ways to do it that aren’t offensive. If you would be embarrassed to wear it in front of someone from that race, culture, religion, etc then it’s probably not a good idea.

  43. 43
    October 27th, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Like Cherise, my hair looks more or less exactly like the “ghetto fabulous” wig. And that’s why it’s offensive Nothing is “ghetto” about my hair. Nothing is even particularly “fabulous” about my hair. I washed it, I combed it, and that’s what it looks like; it’s just hair. But my hair is being marketed to white women (whether their costume is “ghetto fabulous” or not) as “ghetto fabulous.” And you know what? I’ve had white girls, probably some who even read this blog, who have referred to my hair as “ghetto” as some kind of twisted compliment. It implies that black hair, mixed hair, etc. is exclusive to “the ghetto,” and that “the ghetto” is a joke. Most “white” looking wigs are marketed either with basic descriptions (“long blonde wig”), pleasant euphemisms (“glamor wig”), or a specific character (“Marilyn Monroe wig”). All of the white women commenting claim that they “wouldn’t be offended” if the same thing happened, bull. I bet you’d be plenty offended if every straight or wavy brown/blonde wig was described as a “slut wig” or “sorority bimbo wig” or “racist wig.” So why then, if a black person complains that their hair is branded “ghetto” by white people who honestly, probably have never even driven through a ghetto, they’re branded as “butthurt” or “overly sensitive?” You don’t like it if you’re mocked as a race, it’s just that you don’t experience it quite as much, so why should we sit down and shut up?

    And dressing as a character/specific person is different from dressing as a race or group. It’s not offensive for a Latina girl to dress as Paris Hilton any more than it is for a white girl to dress as Dora the Explorer or J. Lo, or a white boy to dress as Lil Wayne, because that’s representing a specific person, not a group. But usually, it’s easy to dress as a specific person without being offensive. Lil Wayne dresses and does his hair and acts in a specific way, you can do it without doing blackface; I’ve seen a lot of white people dress as Obama or Lil Wayne or other black people/characters without doing blackface, and everyone got it. Dressing as “a rapper” doesn’t require blackface, because rappers can be of any race (for the record, the picture of the “rapper” and the girl in blackface are from a party specifically mocking black people, not a Halloween costume of a rapper and a video girl, so anyone justifying that needs to check their sources). And dressing as Dora the Explorer or J. Lo may not be offensive, but dressing as “a Mexican” by wearing a fake mustache and a sombrero, or a pregnant cleaning lady, is offensive. Stuff like Geisha can be a little more ambiguous, because a geisha is an occupation, not a race, but keep in mind that most Asian women don’t get much representation aside from “slutty geisha” or “boring bookworm,” even if they as individuals act and dress nothing like that, and these costumes usually indiscriminantly mix various Asian cultures. Like, why is a Japanese geisha wearing a Chinese quipao? You can’t respect the culture if you see it as the same as a totally different culture. White people should ask people of those cultures if they’re offended by this behavior, not just shout that they’re not offended so no one else should be. White people aren’t the ones being marginalized here, so why should their opinions take precendence over those who are?

  44. 44
    October 28th, 2012 at 1:13 am

    I agree with those who say that if you’d be embarrassed to wear a costume in front of those of that group you’re emulating, it’s a good sign that it isn’t quite right.

    I know Halloween generally exaggerates and that it’s all in good fun, but it starts getting offensive when certain groups who have been very marginalized in the past are misrepresented. It becomes quite problematic for Aboriginals because they are often viewed as people from the past (costumes tend to perpetuate that by only focusing on fancy headdresses and such), and it is often forgotten that many of them are disregarded by society and face problems because many were mistreated by the government (ex. Residential schools!) and now face many long-term ramifications from that.

    It’s pretty easy to stay away from these kinds of costumes, there are tons of silly things to be (a kissing booth! a twister game board lol, a ninja turtle, i don’t know:) )

  45. 45
    October 28th, 2012 at 2:47 am

    People need to stop taking offense so easily

  46. 46
    October 28th, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Typical apologist/cultural marxist article. I agree that people need to stop getting offended about things so easily. If people actually wanted social equality then they wouldn’t sit there expecting special treatment from the “privileged people”, if anything this special treatment is just alienating these minorities from the majority group even more.

  47. 47
    October 28th, 2012 at 11:38 am

    I think that the majority of people that cannot see why a costume may be offensive in whatever capacity cannot do so because they have no comparable situation. Some of the costumes shown are blatantly intended to portray negative ‘funny’ stereotypes, however, and so seem intended to offend in some way. Part of the acceptability at some levels, I envisage, comes from the social levels of the wearers, ie. my group of friends regularly mock each other’s backgrounds in an entirely unserious sense. Maybe this translates so far, to some people, as to the costumes, assuming that everyone will find it entertaining rather than funny.

    Jess also has a good point on picking someone really specific such as Frida Kahlo rather than a random Mexican. Modelling yourself on someone or something is good, modelling a stereotype of a nation that is potentially harmful is bad. Then, of course, you get into the debate of whether someone who is, say, a Mexican born in Texas can dress as the stereotype. Eh.

    I’d say stick with something you’d be willing to show to any stranger on the street without worrying about their background or sensibilities. We’ve done things like pirates, superheroes, and 80s rockers pretty easily.

  48. 48
    October 28th, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    If you are going to take about race, what about religion. There are many costumes out there taht depcit sexy or pregnant nuns or pedo priests/ ministers. I’m sure people of those faith find that offensive.

    In all honestly, it all depends on the intent, one year I went as a oriental princcess (not of asian descent & no the costume was not “sexy” in any way) cause I thought the costume was beautiful. I wasn’t trying to be offensive at all, I just loved the costume.

    Don’t allow others to offend you or make you feel like you have to live up to a sterotype. Prove them wrong if it really bothers you, don’t just say I’m offended and there shouldn’t be any costumes like this. It comes off as whining and makes it appear as though you are oversensitive.

    I am not saying that some of these costumes are wrong, what I am saying is that instead of whining about sterotypes, break the sterotype! Prove people wrong by living the best to your ability and don’t let others beliefs about your race or culture box you in. They only have power, if you give it to them and you will do that if you let this bother you.

  49. 49
    October 28th, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I don’t really like this ‘fashionably informed’ series, if I’m honest. People are people, and a costume is a costume. Am I being told I somehow can’t tell the difference between the real thing and a stereotype? Of course I can. Not being able to laugh at ourselves and others takes the fun out of being human.

  50. 50
    October 28th, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    I don’t know if i should be surprised at all the people who completely missed the point.
    WHY is it bad to dress up as, say, a geisha you ask? Because Asian women are sorely misrepresented in modern media and are either ~ exotic sexy dragon ladies~ or ~demure, innocent schoolgirls~. Or as a Native American? Because there are literally HUNDREDS of groups of Native Americans, and to reduce them to one type of dress is insulting.

    “You wear the costume for one night. I wear the stigma for life.”
    This really speaks to me. It’s eloquent, poignant, straightforward. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at all this ignorance, since most of these readers never lived through the stigma.

  51. 51
    October 28th, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Just to add to my thoughts (not like most commenters here care for the thoughts of anyone who might actually be affected, *sigh*. I honestly wonder if the college demographic is not mature enough as a whole to consider these discussions, and bothering to inform them isn’t for nothing), why dressing up as a cop, priest, nun, nurse, etc. to mock them is different: because you chose to be all of those things. You are not born a police officer or a nun, you made the conscious decision as an adult to pursue that (though dressing up as a “slutty Catholic” or “Jew” or “Muslim” might be more likely to offended, because it mocks beliefs rather than occupation).

  52. 52
    October 28th, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    While I agree that cultural awareness is important, this campaign is beyond silly. I am an Iranian-American Muslim – one of the most misunderstood and stereotyped nationalities in the world. Yet, I would never be offended if I saw someone dressed as a terrorist or any other “racially insensitive” costume. I would assume that that person was just enjoying Halloween. GET A SENSE OF HUMOR, PEOPLE!!! Halloween is supposed to be a fun night and it is only celebrated once a year – relax.

  53. 53
    October 30th, 2012 at 5:32 am

    This article is great and I agree with pretty much everything you have said here however, seeing an advertisement for “Spirit Hoods” on your site and then it says “Join the Tribe”, kind of defeats the purpose.

  54. 54
    October 30th, 2012 at 10:12 am

    As someone from Asian descent, I don’t really find it offensive to have people dress as what they think asian people look like. I think it embarasses the person more when they come into contact with me and have that “awkward moment.” Get a sense of humor people, we’ve got to be able to laugh at ourselves and our stereotypes since we know that it isn’t really true and it’s not who we are.

  55. 55
    October 30th, 2012 at 10:13 am

    P.S. I think the costumes would be less of a problem if the companies would not try and name them… like “Geisha Girl” or “Ghetto Hair.” Don’t label the costume.

  56. 56
    October 30th, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Charli – Really? Where are you seeing that ad? I keep refreshing and it won’t show up for me. Can you send me the link it goes to or a screenshot of the ad if you see it again? Want to make sure we take it down.

  57. 57
    October 30th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    And @syd. it’s not really the curly hair in the wig that’s ghetto. My hair is curly. It’s the bad earrings/makeup/highlights everything that make it look ghetto.

  58. 58
    October 30th, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Wow, I’m surprised there are so many comments in the lines of “some people are too easily offended”. The costumes in question are examples of casual racism and people shouldn’t get so defensive about wearing them.
    If your costume offends a group of people then you’re wrong for wearing it, not them for being “easily offended”. Don’t tell people to relax or to get a sense of humour.

  59. 59
    October 30th, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    I really like syd’s comments – I feel like she/he hit the point really well. I agree that a lot of the readers who say people should stop taking offense have probably not experienced marginalization that much.
    It is subtle, but it does happen in everyday life for many minority groups.

  60. 60
    October 31st, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I’m going to preface this with saying I’m mixed, but I look Asian, and grew up in a small town and faced racism quite a bit growing up.

    See, the thing is, I agree that going as a cultural stereotype is not cool BUT I feel there’s something off with this campaign, for example, saying “we’re a culture not a costume” with someone holding a picture of a suicide bomber costume, it’s a insensitive costume for a bunch of reasons, but, uh, I’m more uncomfortable with equating that to middle eastern culture, which maybe the person wearing such a costume might be thinking, maybe not. I personally would think it’s someone dressed up as a suicide bomber, not a muslim. Similar feelings about geisha. It is part of Japanese culture, sure, but it’s not mocking it in anyway more than say… gothic lolita portrayals of Victorian Britain? Which I don’t have a problem with. This campaign loads a lot of malicious intent which was never there.

    I’m a mixed race Asian/white kid. I have in the passed dressed in “Asian” costumes because, well, I look more Asian than white. I did that last year and got pointed to this campaign. I’m an Asian girl being accused of being racist for dressing up as a geisha. Also, I’m wondering why French, Scottish or German stereotypes don’t seem to have been included in these campaigns?

    A lot of the time with these campaigns, it feels like overly sensitive white people getting their knickers in a twist over these things, rather than someone genuinely feeling their culture has been slighted. I’m Asian, if someone wants to dress like a samurai, geisha, etc. that’s fine with me. I’m also Scottish, and if I got offended over the amount of Brave costumes this year, I’d be told I was being ridiculous. Which I would be.

    Also, finally: difference between dressing up as something specific, or as a character, and a broad generalisation. E.g. Mulan = ok in my book. Generic Chinese stereotype = not cool. Making yourself up as black and being a stereotype = so not cool. Doing it to go as a very specific character = different. (I mean, there’s still issues of “blackface” but I think there’s a balance between recognising the past and creating more problems by blindly sticking to it with no discussion)

    Racism is about malicious intent OR a lack of respect that leads to unintentional offense. If you pay the culture it’s due respect, then I won’t be offended.

    What does offend me is when I’m told what should or shouldn’t be offending me in the context of race (especially my own) when it’s by white people, and I’m sorry, but you have no place to tell me what is offensive in relation to my own race or culture. It’s just a new form of Imperialism coming from the other end…

  61. 61
    October 31st, 2012 at 4:35 pm


  62. 62
    November 1st, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Here’s the thing –
    How would you feel if on Halloween I straightened my hair, threw on some Sperry’s, got ridiculously drunk and started talking about how rich I am and when you asked what I am, I said “I’m a white girl.”

    A lot of you seem to be under the impression that, “boo hoo, I’m so limited because I’m white.” Um, no. You can be anyone from Bella Swan to Elizabeth Bennet. You have a million options. There are a thousand white people you could portray.

    If you’re more upset about limits on your creativity than the thought that you could offend someone, there is something wrong.

  63. 63
    November 1st, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    I thought Syd was right when they said that people are missing the point, but I would disagree a little about what the point is. I don’t think we have to limit the wronged group to people born a certain way. What I would say the difference between dressing as a cop and dressing as a person of color/or in a costume that represents a culture is that cops have not been systemically oppressed by people who are not cops. As a white person, I understand how your first impulse when you hear someone telling you that you can’t do something or that maybe you were being offensive would be to shut down and say “well you have no sense of humor,” but I think that is a defense mechanism because we are uncomfortable and we should take these complaints more seriously. Racism is a problem that affects people of color everyday and they don’t get a choice about what stereotypes are associated with them or what the consequences are, so it is disrespectful to take on those stereotypes for a night, both trivializing their harmfulness and perpetuating them. You don’t have to have negative intentions or purposely want to hurt people of color to wear a Halloween costume that perpetuates racism, and as many people have pointed out, there are plenty of costumes that don’t do that, so I would suggest choosing one of those instead.

  64. 64
    November 17th, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    i really do hate that people are saying that people are “being offended easily”. OK, i don’t care whether or not this is racist/opressive or something, but if people are offended, are HURT by these costumes, shouldn’t we be against it? It’s not the technicalities that matter, but how people feel about this.

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