Ghouls, ghosts, goblins, witches, warlocks, candy and costume parties are all the makings for All Hallow’s Eve, the big night of the year when kids of all ages dress up and go door to door, except for college students, who will celebrate a “culturally appropriate” Halloween, self-reflecting over the most important question of the night — is my costume offensive?
Wesleyan College asked students “Is your costume offensive?” on a Halloween checklist that defines an offending costume as one that mocks “cultural or religious symbols such as dreadlocks, headdresses, afros, bindis, etc.,” attempts “to represent an entire culture or ethnicity,” or “trivialize human suffering, oppression, and marginalization such as portraying a person who is homeless, imprisoned, a person with disabilities, or a person with mental illness.”
If still unsure before stepping out in a potentially politically incorrect costume, students can email or call one of six campus counselors including staffers at the Office of Equity and Inclusion.
“The intent of the (Halloween checklist) poster was to generate conversations about social justice, stereotypes, and how we project ourselves during Halloween,” Student Activities and Leadership Development Director Elisa Cardona, responsible for the poster’s creation, told the College Fix.
The State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo’s Show Your True Face campaign also tests for costume cultural insensitivity. Counselors are standing by on campus to help students sort their way through Party City.
The university’s Center for Community reminds students that being a “member of Geneseo comes with responsibilities, so think about your ACTIONS and COSTUME for Halloween” to make sure “you represent the true Geneseo ideal.” Flyers help students better evaluate culturally appropriate Halloween costumes by avoiding negative stereotypes and hurtful messages. Geneseo credits “Teaching Tolerance” a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Hampshire College and UMass Amherst for campaign materials.
Throwing a party? Greek Intervarsity portrays sensitive and inclusive Halloween theme ideas. Duke University reminds everyone #OurCulturesAreNotCostumes. North Carolina State University’s infographic flowchart tells students if their costumes are offensive, racist, or harmless. NC State highlights students may be culturally out of line if their only defense of a costume is “Relax, it’s just a costume.”
Seems anyone can fall victim to culturally insensitive costumes. The Associated Students of University of Washington at Seattle advised against Halloween afros, hula dancer skirts and leis, straight jackets, and dressing in drag — unless it is consciously responsible drag and not perpetuating negative stereotypes associated with dressing in drag.
Also culturally insensitive are sombreros, fake Mexican mustaches, fake Arab noses, blackface, pimp fedoras, do-rags, geishas, samurai warriors, cowboys, Playboy bunnies, indigenous people, pirates, and mariachis. No Day of the Dead or Confederate symbols, toy guns, or fake plastic swords and blades. Nothing religious. Do not dress up as Fu Manchu, decapitated Cecil the Lion, Pocahontas, Pancho Villa, Kimye, or Caitlyn Jenner. The North American Interfraternity Conference advises against wearing fake butts. At this point, a kid wearing a plain white bed sheet may be problematic.
Being culturally appropriate is about being sensitive to other cultures. However, UCLA defines the similar sounding cultural appropriation as taking “ancient, religious traditions and making them recreational.” The university further illustrates cultural appropriation as “wearing a turban and robe with bombs on it,” but they didn’t say anything about a homemade suitcase clock. White folks wearing corn rows on Halloween is a no-no.
Last year, a post in the Urban Dictionary called out cultural appropriation as a “ridiculous notion that being of a different culture or race (especially white) means that you are not allowed to adopt things from other cultures. This does nothing but support segregation and hinder progress in the world.”
Does not matter, cultural sensitivity is all the rage. The New York Times lists a few acceptable costumes as “a Crayola crayon, a cup of Starbucks coffee, or the striped-cap-wearing protagonist of the ‘Where’s Waldo?’ books.” Some of the University of Texas at Austin’s Orange Magazine non-offensive costumes are dressing as a squirrel, a spoon, a loofa, a flamingo, Plato, grapes, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Browsing the internet, Rosie the Riveter, a deck of playing cards, and a domino also qualify. Other culturally sensitive, gender and sexually neutral non-racist costumes include a bottle of ketchup and mustard, peanut butter and jelly on bread, a tree, and a carrot, although not all may be allergy, soy, or gluten-free.
In 2013, Everyday Feminism claimed “sexy” girl costumes hyper-sexualized “one group of people,” although the writer suggested a strip of bacon was an acceptable costume.
Happy “culturally appropriate” Halloween.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.