There’s always a few surefire signs it’s that time of the year again. Jack O’ Lanterns are on stoops. Fake spider webs are every to be seen. And some people think it’s okay to dress up in costumes befitting the most base racial and ethnic stereotypes imaginable in the name of some good old Halloween fun.
For reasons that no one has ever made clear, Halloween somehow licenses the decision to garb oneself as a bomb-wielding Middle Eastern terrorist or put on blackface and strut on out to a party as a jive talkin’ African American pimp from the 1970s.
The people swinging their cane or holding a thumb to the detonator with an all-too amused grin on their face presumably don’t think their choices are deeply offensive; a little cheeky, perhaps, but nothing more.
But a student group at Ohio University is telling anyone thinking of going out in such a costume to think twice.
The group, Students Teaching About Racism in Society, has created a poster campaign called “We’re a culture, not a costume.”
The five posters feature people from different ethnic backgrounds holding up a picture of a person wearing a costume that’s pretty much about as prejudiced as it gets. In one poster, a young Asian American woman holds up a picture of a woman dressed as a Japanese geisha girl. In another a Native American man holds a picture of a couple with feathers in their hair and paint on their faces and holding a sign that reads, “Me wantum piece...not war.”
There is also a poster of an Arab man holding up a photo of a white guy dressed as a suicide bomber, a Mexican American man holding a picture of a guy dressed in a sombrero and riding a fake donkey, and finally, an African American woman holding a photo of a woman dressed as a gangster rapper.
Each poster carries the slogan, “This is not who I am, and this is not okay.”
The campaign was launched “to educate and facilitate discussion about racism and to promote racial harmony and to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings,” the group said. And though it has gone viral across the Internet, not everyone agrees these costumes and others like them are off-side.
“Gimme a break! No one is saying the costume represents YOU (college child). It is simply a culture or time period or character that others can recognize,” one commenter wrote on the Huffington Post.
“Great, another cause for the perpetually offended,” wrote another.
But another commenter offered this rule of thumb: “Here’s the guideline: if your costume depends on you making yourself up to look like a different race, it’s not a costume. It’s an insult.”
What do you think? Are costumes like these racist, or harmless fun?
Editor's Note: The group was Students Teaching About Racism in Society from Ohio University. Incorrect information originally appeared in this article.