Halloween is a holiday that is celebrated with much fervor, especially among college students. At The University of Texas, one trend is to dress up in “sexy” or pop culture-inspired costumes. Often, in their efforts to have the most clever or relevant costumes, people forget to be sensitive towards the feelings of others.
The student union at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario has come up with a comprehensive list of inappropriate costumes which will be banned from university-affiliated Halloween parties. In addition to the obvious swastika and Confederate flag ban, the list includes but is not limited to costumes that incorporate “sacred and ceremonial dress,” make fun of suicide or trivialize sexual assault.
This year, when deciding what to wear for Halloween (or ever), things you should definitely not wear include costumes that…
Reduce traditional, cultural, or religious garb into a joke or stereotype
Costumes that use traditional outfits, especially those of a marginalized group that you’re not a part of, is likely to be offensive. This includes traditional Indian costumes and bindis, Native American costumes (yes, even if you just want to be Disney’s Pocahontas), Day of the Dead inspired makeup looks, sombreros, geisha costumes and Arabic thobes. Coming up with a “sexy” or convenient costume is no excuse for cultural appropriation.
Reduce characteristics of people of other groups to a joke or stereotype
If your costume involves blackface, and you’re still questioning whether or not it is okay: it’s not. When non-African American people put on blackface, they are ignoring the history of institutionalized slavery and racism that minstrelsy
Make fun of the death of public figures
If you’d like to commemorate the life of a public figure you admire, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, dressing up as a bloodstained Trayvon Martin, Harambe, Cecil the Lion or an assassinated president is simply distasteful.
Make fun of serious issues such as suicide, depression and other disabilities
Mental and physical disabilities are already stigmatized in society. Because of this, making fun of public figures, such a Robin Williams, who committed suicide, is in bad taste.
Unsurprisingly, corporations often capitalize on the insecurities of their consumers, especially women. So, when a costume shop introduced a costume featuring a thin model in a tight skeleton dress called “Anna Rexia,” it trivialized the serious nature of eating disorders. In addition, dressing up as TV characters who have physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy sufferer Walter White Jr. from the popular show Breaking Bad, isn’t acceptable.
Perpetuate of rape culture or domestic abuse
Costumes that are newsworthy issues tend to be popular. When these costumes make light of serious issues such as sexual assault, they perpetuate rape culture. Naturally, dressing up as Bill Cosby or Jerry Sandusky is off-limits. If the costume alludes to the sexual assaults, it may be triggering to survivors.
This Halloween, a popular couples’ costume will be Harley Quinn and The Joker from DC’s movie adaptation of Suicide Squad. While the movie romanticized the couple, their relationship was actually abusive, with him attempting to kill her multiple times. Reducing this complex relationship to a costume diminishes the domestic abuse that many people have to deal with and overcome, and may even be triggering to some.
With all of this said, it is understandable that choosing a politically correct Halloween costume might be frustrating. My intention is not to make you feel guilty for wanting to have a fun Halloween experience, but to remind you that it’s important to be inclusive and considerate. As Brock University’s Student Justice Center put it, “You wear that costume for one night, but others wear that stigma for life.”
Rahman is a business and Plan II sophomore from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @MehrazR