10 Halloween Costumes That Are Actually Racist, Even If You Might Not Realize It

Here's what not to wear.

by Madeleine Aggeler
Originally Published: 

Halloween is around the corner and excitement is brewing, even during quarantine. But before you stock up on face paint and plastic accessories, let's establish one rule this year: Don't wear racist Halloween costumes.

Look, ideally this would go without saying. And yet, every year someone makes the ill decision to choose a racist outfit. No matter how prevalent it is, it's not OK to mock or belittle other people's cultures no matter the holiday.

And blackface isn't the only offense. 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.

That said, 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. 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, 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.

A "Gypsy"

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 states, 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,” says McGee. “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 into 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 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."

A Nazi

Graham Wood/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Don't dress up as a Nazi. Period. Hitler and the Nazis are responsible for the 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 should make you realize this outfit isn't a joke.

A Rastafarian

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. Locs 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, this religion is not something to be made light of in a Halloween costume.

An Egyptian Goddess

As Celine wrote in "10 Halloween Costumes White People Need to Stop Wearing": "Pharaohs, Cleopatra costumes, Nefertiti costumes, anks, etc. is not for white people to wear. The Ancient Egyptians were basically the only Black, African civilization given any exposure or respect, and even then, their Blackness is systemically denied."

A Geisha

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.

The Wall

Trump's proposal for a border wall with Mexico isn't funny. It's a policy that has been used to justify racism directed toward 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.”

Cultural Stereotype

You might think that you're throwing a nod to a fun character, but you're actually taking a culture to which you don't belong and turning it into a trivial costume. And without knowing the full sordid history behind such stories, your costume could be at most violent and at least painfully ignorant.


Be clear: COVID-19 is not something to make light of. The death toll, globally, is almost 5 million. And as the virus is used as an excuse to direct racism toward China (even dubbed the "Chinese virus" by the former U.S. president), targeted groups could be greatly offended by your costume.

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 and eat candy, in the true Halloween spirit.

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