‘We’re a Culture, Not a Costume:’ Racist Halloween Costumes?

Halloween is finally here, and if you plan to dress as a “Mexican” tonight, you may want to reconsider it. That’s according to  a group of Ohio University students, who started the “We’re a culture, not a costume” campaign last week to raise awareness of what they deem to be offensive costumes.

The students are members of the group S.T.A.R.S., and their treasurer Stephanie Sheeley spoke with Colorlines’ reporter Jorge Rivas about some of the criticisms of the campaign. Sheeley told Rivas that its offensive to wear a costume that’s meant to represent a marginalized group rather than dress up as an individual person who happens to be of another ethnicity:

Many of you had a lot to say about the campaign when we wrote about it last week. We also polled readers as to whether it’s racist to dress up in a costume that’s meant to represent an entire race (you can still cast your vote). Most people who responded didn’t have much problem with such costumes:

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‘We’re a Culture, Not a Costume’ Raises Halloween Debate (Poll)

Is it racist to dress up as a Mexican for Halloween? Yes, according to a group of Ohio University students who launched the “We’re a culture, not a costume” campaign now gaining national attention.

Sarah Williams, president of the Ohio student group STARS, said on CNN: “During Halloween, we see offensive costumes. We don’t like it, we don’t appreciate it… The best way to get rid of stereotypes and racism is to have a discussion and raise awareness, which is what we want to do with this campaign.”

Why is it problematic to dress up as a Mexican for Halloween? Jelani Cobb, African studies professor at Rutgers University, explains to CNN:

“To treat a character like Batman or Superman as a Halloween costume is one thing, but to treat an entire ethnicity as a costume is something else. It suggests that people conflate the actual broad diversity of a culture with caricatures and characters.

But not everyone agrees; negative comments flooded Melissa Sipin’s blog, which first reported about the campaign on Sunday before national media took note. Critics feel the campaign is a hyper-sensitive reaction to people who simply want to have fun on Halloween, a time to relax and check all the seriousness at the door. Sipin responds to such critics:

This poster campaign isn’t about being overly sensitive to costume choices, it’s about perpetuati­ng prejudices and negative stereotype­s through these choices. All we’re asking people is to stop perpetuating those prejudices and to realize that you’re crossing a line when you strap fake bombs to your chest to portray a Middle Eastern man or if you paint your face black.

What do you think of the question raised by the posters? Take our poll:

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