October is probably one of the best times of year. The air is cool, pumpkin-flavored anything becomes available, sweater weather is back, and best of all, Halloween is right around the corner. I can't wait to ring in the season with candy corn and hot chocolate, and every year I have a tradition of watching The Nightmare Before Christmas on October 30th.
Most of all, of course, the former theatre kid in me loves picking out a costume and going out on the town on Halloween night. I have such fond childhood memories of going out to trick-or-treat on Halloween night. But as I got older and began to learn about many of the world's social ills, unfortunately, a lot of my fun every year is impeded by a handful of culturally insensitive costumes. I see people in Indian headdresses, donning sugar skull face paint, wearing a geisha costume or Arab attire. I understand that the point of Halloween costumes are to dress up as someone other than yourself and role play for the night, but when your costume is poking fun at a culture that is not your own, it reinforces harmful stereotypes about marginalized identities. Simply put, it's racist.
But I am the sort of person who gives people the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that people who wear racist costumes don't hold racist beliefs themselves; maybe they just don't know any better. I'm hoping that whoever is reading this and hasn't picked out a costume yet takes this into heart and doesn't make a fool of themselves this Halloween.
When you put on a questionably ethnic costume to a culture to which you don't belong, you affirm some toxic misconceptions about said cultures and contribute to erasure and racism. For example, if you wear an Indian headdress, you're neglecting the fact that the headdress is actually a high honor for Native Americans. You are turning what is meant to be a symbol of bravery and achievement in indigenous communities into a costume. If you wear a geisha costume, you may think it's innocent and fun, but Asian women have to live with the fact that this is how they are viewed by much of society - stoic, submissive, and silent. Dressing up as an Arabian person may be a hit with your friends, but remember that they have to deal with being viewed as a threat and a terrorist by society at large. My point is, costumes may be fun to you, but for people of color, they can be a reminder that the Western world views their identities as a costume or a joke.
Furthermore, if you're dressing up as a character that's a difference race than your own, please, for the love of all that is good, do not darken your skin. It's perfectly fine to dress up as a black or Latinx character - even if you're white. Skin coloring, especially blackface, has a long and gruesome history of being used as a means of mocking people of color. The skin color of the character shouldn't be the main aspect you take away from them. If it is, then it's probably a costume you shouldn't be wearing at all. Wear the costume, not the race.
Some Halloween costumes are manifestations of really harmful, racist stereotypes, and I can understand how the context for a lot of these stereotypes is lost. But these stereotypes do still very much affect people of color. At the end of the day, Halloween is all about fun. But if you have fun at someone else's expense, you should think about why you feel so entitled to wear costumes you know are offensive. There are many, many statement-making costumes you can wear without trying on a culture for the night. With that in mind, remember to have a safe, happy, and culturally sensitive Halloween.