Yes, racist Halloween costumes are a problem

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By Emily Daniel

Staff Writer

I won’t sugarcoat it: I absolutely love Halloween! I can’t really put my finger on the exact reason why, but just the idea of getting to dress up—of getting to embody someone else even for a couple of hours—has always appealed to me. Even now, at almost twenty-one years of age, I still put a lot of thought and effort into my Halloween costumes, and judging from some of the magnificent costumes I’ve seen around campus in the past two years, I am not the only Sewanee student to do this.

Halloween costumes can be a fantastic showcase of the wearer’s talent and creativity, but unfortunately, some people have a tendency to misuse this opportunity and create costumes that only promote ignorance and hate. Offensive Halloween costumes have gained an enormous amount of notoriety in the media over the last couple of years. The incident that sticks out most clearly in my mind is the Julianne Hough blackface scandal of 2013—when the former Dancing with the Stars performer wore dark makeup as part of an Orange Is the New Black costume and received a hailstorm of criticism in response. While I suspect that Hough, like most decent people, didn’t intend to purposefully hurt anyone with her costume, this does not excuse the fact that her Crazy Eyes outfit offended many people by portraying a stereotyped and inaccurate image of African-American women.

Even now, I am still baffled by Hough’s choice. How could anybody ever think such a costume was appropriate? It seems so obvious to me, but unfortunately, incidents like the Hough blackface scandal are far too common around this time of year, especially on college campuses. Without even considering the ramifications, many students dress up in racist Halloween costumes such as stereotypical “Indians” and “geishas,” despite not being Native American or Japanese themselves. Most of them, I’m sure, believe that what they’re doing is harmless fun, but this line of thinking could not be farther from the truth. Rather, when someone decides to don an offensive Halloween costume, they are not only perpetuating racist and classist stereotypes—they are also sending the message, whether they realize it or not, that minority cultures are not worthy of respect. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of such costumes. Why would anybody want to be a “Mexican” or a “terrorist” when they could be their favorite celebrity or superhero? While I understand that many people enjoy pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable with their Halloween costumes, racist costumes on a college campus are simply inappropriate and unacceptable. They are not something to simply be shrugged off or ignored; they should be actively discouraged by both authority figures and students alike. After all, everyone has the right to feel safe and respected on Halloween.