8 Halloween Costumes That Are Actually Racist, Even if You Might Not Realize It
Hi, friends, thanks for joining me. Please, take a seat. Now, I know Halloween is around the corner, and you're all excited. I've seen the spooky memes, and witch references, and the GIF of that pumpkin guy dancing in a graveyard. But before you stock up on face paint and plastic accessories, let's establish one rule for costumes this year: Don't be racist.
Look, ideally this would go without saying. And yet, every year someone manages to trip up. Something about cheap costumes in flammable fabrics seems to make us think it's OK to mock or belittle other people's cultures and, as a reminder, it's extremely not OK. Ever. No matter the holiday.
"It's not like I'm going to go in blackface," you might be thinking, which is an extremely low bar I wouldn't be too proud of setting of itself. But even if you know enough not to try to change your skin color for Halloween (unless it's to become a mystical creature like a Smurf, and that's basically it), there are a lot of Halloween costumes you might think are fun or inoffensive, but are actually racist.
Before we go into specifics, here are a couple of general guidelines to help you not be racist this Halloween.
Broadly, dressing up as an entire people instead of a specific person is a bad idea. As comedian Kumail Nanjiani told GQ last year: "Dressing up as 'a Black man' is a bad idea. Dressing up as 'Barack Obama' is a mediocre idea. Dressing up as 'Casual, Retired Obama' is a funny idea — and a great opportunity to eat frozen treats while wearing comfy clothes." If you do go as a specific person, avoid figures of religious or cultural significance to a particular group to which you do not belong.
Finally, let's be honest — it's just not that hard to do two minutes of research to determine whether or not your costume is racist. It's easy, fast, and worth it to avoid offending those around you, and embarrassing yourself. So, that being said, here are some costumes you may not think are racist, but that you should absolutely not wear this year.
The term "gypsy" is itself a derogatory term that has often been used to describe the Romani or Roma people, a traditionally nomadic ethnic group that lives primarily in Central and Eastern Europe, and has faced significant persecution throughout history, culminating in the Porjamos, or Romani genocide, under the Nazis in WWII.
Media portrayals of Roma, like Esmeralda from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, have depicted them as fortune tellers and swindlers, and to wear a "gypsy" costume is to play into the same stereotypes that people have used to justify the persecution of Romani people.
A "Voodoo" Priestess
As NPR's Leah Donnella notes, it's important to note that there is a big difference between actual "voodoo" religions, like Vodun, Vodou, Hoodoo, Vaudou, which combine elements of Catholicism and Vodun, a religion of the West African Yoruba people, and the voodoo that's portrayed in pop culture.
In his paper "Haitian Vodou and Voodoo: Imagined Religion and Popular Culture," Harvard professor Adam McGee points out that the "voodoo" we often see in media has little to do with the religion, and more to do with racism:
This imagined religion serves as a venue for the expression of more-or-less undiluted racial anxieties, manifested as lurid fantasies about black peoples. ...
As something that is coded as black, presenting voodoo in scenarios that are belittling, denigrating and, most especially, aimed to evoke terror is a way of directing these sentiments at blacks without openly entering into racist discourse.
To wear a voodoo costume ignores the real religious significance of some of the symbols, and plays in to a racist image created by the media.
A Day Of The Dead Sugar Skull
Unless you were raised in Mexican culture, and observe Day of the Dead, the calavera, or "sugar mask," face painting associated with Día de los Muertos is not an appropriate costume.
"People need to understand that when they are wearing that calavera, that it's not just a mask or something to decorate their face with," Yreina Cervantez, a Chicano/a studies professor at California State University, Northridge, told the Inquisitr. "What they are wearing is the symbolism of that eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth."
I... can't believe I have to say this, but don't dress up as a Nazi, OK? Hitler and the Nazis are responsible for deaths of millions and millions of people. As if that weren't reason enough to steer clear of this costume, the increased reach and public prominence of white supremacist groups, like those who gathered in Charlottesville this summer, should make you realize this outfit isn't a joke.
Rastafarianism is a religion with Afrocentric ideology that originated in Jamaica in the 1930s, and is based on a specific interpretation of the Bible known as Rastology. Smoking cannabis is a spiritual practice in Rastafarianism, and dreadlocks are considered one of the distinguishing marks of the religion, and they are seen as a covenant Rastas have made with God.
In other words, the distinguishing characteristics of this religion are not something to be made light of in a Halloween costume.
An Egyptian Goddess
As one woman named Celine wrote in a post called "10 Halloween Costumes White People Need to Stop Wearing": "Pharaohs, Cleopatra costumes, Nefertiti costumes, anks, etc. is not for white people to wear [sic]. The Ancient Egyptians were basically the only Black, African civilization given any exposure or respect, and even then their blackness is systemically denied."
In 2013, Katy Perry dressed as a Geisha at the American Music Awards. Her costume received significant backlash, including from Jeff Yang, who wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
The thing is, while a bucket of toner can strip the geisha makeup off of Perry’s face, nothing can remove the demeaning and harmful iconography of the lotus blossom from the West’s perception of Asian women — a stereotype that presents them as servile, passive, and as Perry would have it, "unconditional" worshippers of their men, willing to pay any price and weather any kind of abuse in order to keep him happy.
Trump's proposal for a border wall with Mexico isn't funny; it's a policy that has been used to justify increasingly mainstream racism of Mexican and Latino communities. As activist Jeronimo Saldaña wrote in a petition to have the above costume removed from Amazon's website:
Donald Trump's rise to power has been forged on a hate filled agenda that began with him referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists, killers and thieves. During his campaign, he perpetuated anti-Latinx sentiment by promising to build a "big beautiful wall" to "keep Americans safe". Trump's promise of a border wall soon grew into an anti-immigrant chant that has been used to taunt Latinx children in classrooms, playgrounds, and school sporting events.
So go forth, enjoy Halloween! But before you go out, take a few seconds to consider whether or not your costume is racist. If you're not sure, look it up! Once you've established that it's not, take your awesome (not racist!) costume, go to awesome parties, and eat candy until you're sick, in the true Halloween spirit.