Halloween, in my opinion, is one of the best holidays. As a child you get to dress up as a princess or a superhero and go door to door, getting a pillowcase-full of candy to sneakily eat later once your parents are asleep. As a teenager and a young adult, Halloween is a time to be with your friends and have fun. You may dress up in a costume that is funny or creative, makes you look sexy or makes you look scary, all in good fun. However, the scariest part of Halloween isn’t the ghosts or vampires—it is the frightening ignorance of some people and their costumes.
But Halloween costumes are all in good fun, aren’t they? Most Halloween costumes are great; dressing up as a vampire or Elsa from “Frozen” doesn’t really offend anyone (unless you spend the entire night singing “Let It Go”). However, there are costumes that cross the line between harmless and chauvinistic. The moment you make a costume out of someone’s identity or culture, you begin to insult them. Most people do not want their identity reduced to a disguise that you can wear once a year to party. Going out as a “Sexy Indian” is extremely offensive to Native American cultures. Not only are you sexualizing women, but you are also oppressing Native Americans by perpetuating the inaccurate stereotypes of their culture.
Native Americans are constantly shown in the media as people wearing animal skins and dancing around a fire. Even the famous children’s movie Peter Pan, the subject of this year’s 24-Hour Musical, is very racist toward Native Americans. The movie has a song called “What Makes the Red Man Red?” and the musical includes a song called “Ugg-a-Wugg” which is just gibberish that is supposed to mimic a native language. The inclusion of this song in the 24-Hour Musical was a topic of controversy in The Brandeis Hoot last month because of its racist background and portrayal of Native Americans. What entertainment media doesn’t include is the rich history and culture of the different tribes and their continuation today. “Harmless” representations such as those in the 24-Hour Musical contribute to ignorance and racism in society.
Ignorant costumes affect almost every culture. From the over-sexualization of the Japanese Geishas, who are traditionally modestly dressed hostesses, to the mockery of Hispanic cultures with donkey costumes and sombreros labeled “Mexican Man,” no one wants their culture reduced to a disrespectful stereotype that is paraded around all night.
Halloween costumes do not stop at disrespecting people’s cultures and promoting racial stereotypes. They can also be ableist, making fun of mental illness. Costumes have made light of mental illness many times before from “scary” schizophrenics to straitjackets. Recently there was outrage against a Halloween costume sold under the name “Anna Rexia,” which is a tight black dress with a skeleton on it and a measuring tape around the waist. Not only is this costume distasteful, but it is also glamorizing and trivializing anorexia, the mental illness with the highest death rate. Anorexia and schizophrenia are not things you should be able to dress up as for a night and laugh about.
So next time you are on the web looking at costumes and come across the “Western Senorita” or “Asian Princess” costume, remember those are not just costumes—they are stereotypes of cultures. What we do, say and wear have a larger effect than we think. And if we support these types of costumes by buying them we are just adding to the problems of racism and ignorance in our society. Instead, we should work to change these stereotypes and educate people on what is too far when it comes to costumes. Pointing out these racist actions and ignorance will help to better our society and improve the world for all people.