Race-based costumes perpetuate stereotypes

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Race-based costumes perpetuate stereotypes

Abby Neal, Web Editor-In-Chief

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Sexy Native American. Muslim terrorist. Sexy Geisha. Illegal immigrant.
While perusing the aisles for this year’s Halloween costume, these are a few that you should avoid. Costumes that perpetuate negative racial stereotypes or that inaccurately mimic cultures that are not your own are not a fun way to get some laughs at a Halloween party; they are offensive and inappropriate and should not be worn.
Dressing up as a sexualized version of a Native American, for example, completely ignores the centuries of culture that is behind the clothing and the deeply rooted traditional meaning behind a feathered headdress.
Native American culture has been stifled and restricted for centuries, with Native American children being forced to reject their native languages and traditions in schools run by the American government. Taking traditional clothes worn by this demographic and making them “sexy” continues the trend of taking Native American culture away from the people it belongs to and turning it into a joke.
Headdresses, for example, are typically rooted in tradition and religion. Feathered headdresses are not something Native Americans wear because they think it looks cool; they are worn to symbolize things specific to each group. Someone wearing an appropriation of symbolic clothing is disrespectful to the meaning of the item. Native Americans are people, not costumes, and should be treated as such through respectful treatment of their culture.
Additionally, costumes that involve dressing as exaggerated versions of modern demographics do nothing but perpetuate harmful stereotypes. For example, popular costumes over the past few years have been those mocking Middle Eastern or Latin American people, portraying them as radical terrorists or illegal immigrants respectively.
The harm in these costumes lies in their utter inaccuracy. For example, a 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that only eight percent of Muslim Americans said that suicide bombings are sometimes justified. By contrast, 46 percent of non-Muslim Americans said they believed Islam is likely to encourage violence, according to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center.
Another unfortunate trend people fall into when designing their Halloween costumes is blackface, which occurs when (typically white) people use makeup to darken their complexion in order to dress up as an African-American character or trope.
Blackface is, first of all, unnecessary. If dressing up as Nicki Minaj, for example, you should reconsider the quality of your costume if it requires painting your face a different color to be recognizable. Bright colored clothing and outrageous accessories, for example, would be enough to make your costume accurate without playing into racial stereotypes that originated in the days of legal segregation.
Secondly, blackface is offensive and rooted in racial stereotyping. To you, it may be “just a costume,” but it carries along with it deep associations with hatred and degradation. The first instance of blackface as a costume was in the show featuring the character “Jim Crow”- yes, that Jim Crow. The associations live on as blackface has historically and in modern days been used as a degrading caricature of African Americans.
The impact of wearing stereotypes as costumes goes beyond your local Halloween party, especially when it reflects a nationwide trend. Using demographics as costumes perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes that serve to harm people every day. While you get to take the costume off after one night, people who actually fall within that demographic have to feel the impact of these stereotypes every day, as minorities (especially people of Middle Eastern descent) often are rejected from jobs on the basis of stereotypes associated with their ethnicity.
People and cultures are not costumes. Just because you personally feel that something is not offensive, that doesn’t mean that people who actually are affected by the costume don’t. In order to foster a more open, supportive and equal society, the trend of wearing culturally insensitive costumes must stop.

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