As the end of October nears, so rises the number of Halloween-themed parties all over the country. Although Halloween costumes are usually associated with trick-or-treating children, many teenagers and grown-ups also choose to get in on the fun.
In light of the revelry, use your thinking cap and remember some things:
It is – to say the very least – in bad taste to dress up as Trayvon Martin for Halloween.
Thinking of wearing blackface or brownface? Just say no.
Generally, it is not a very good idea to dress up as a caricature of any group of people that has historically been oppressed.
Though it would seem that most people with empathy or knowledge of history would be able to discern this, every year we still get loads of "Indians," "Gypsies," "Geishas" and "Thugs."
Often times, a large group of people are lumped into one stereotype: over 500 tribes of Native Americans are falsely categorized into the homogenized "Indian" category; all Asian countries tend to be mistakenly associated with the Japanese geisha.
Countless unique human cultures have been misrepresented and generalized into non-human mockeries for the sake of someone's "cool" costume.
It is very easy to find these costumes and their accessories. A trip to Party City will yield you an entire section of "Indian" garb, complete with feathers galore.
In a column posted on The Huffington Post, the author asked Mexican-American Marisol Rodriguez if she thought a "Mexican Man" costume sold at a store was weird.
"I find it offensive when folks, especially privileged people, walk around being a Mexican for a day – not really knowing the social issues that come with that," Rodriguez responded.
Culturally insensitive costumes promote ignorance and more insensitivity. For example, a guy dressing up as an Indian chief might justify himself by ascribing to the surprisingly common misconception that Native Americans are an extinct group of people, so it's not offensive to dress up as one.
However, this is certainly not the case, and I'm sure that native people don't appreciate being treated as though they are myths of American history rather than living, breathing humans.
The countless young women who dress provocatively in vaguely native attire—they often go for a sexy Pocahontas—are usually unaware that the rate of sexual assault of Native American women is more than twice the national average.
At Ohio University, a student organization called Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) has launched a campaign that takes a stand against racist costumes with the slogan, "We're a culture, not a costume."
This movement has gained much popularity in the blogosphere. However, it has also received push back from people who feel that cultural sensitivity is too uptight and politically correct. People feel threatened that "they can't have fun" on Halloween.
I don't think anyone would be hurt if someone constructs an accurate costume of a character from a race different from his or her own. It becomes problematic when people dress up specifically as another ethnic group and promote negative stereotypes, such as a Geisha girl, Muslim terrorist or ghetto thug.
No one's trying to take away your right to have fun, but why would you want to have fun at the expense of an already marginalized group of people?
Don't be a jerk for Halloween.
Andrea Richardson is a sophomore in anthropology. She can be reached email@example.com.