• Tue, Oct 25 2011

Killjoy Students Campaign Against Racist Halloween Costumes

A group of students at Ohio University called STARS (Students Teaching About Racism in Society) has started a poster campaign designed to shame people out of dressing up like racial or cultural stereotypes for Halloween. According to the organization’s official description, their mission is “To educate and facilitate discussion about racism and to promote racial harmony and to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings.” I imagine it’s hard for Muslim students to feel “safe” on their campuses when there are people running around dressed up like the guys who LOL-hi-jacked those planes on 9/11, so the posters seem to be fairly in line with their mission.

I’m trying to come up with some contrarian stance as to why the people who made these posters are just being overly sensitive, but I can’t. The truth is, this is the sort of thing that goes unremarked a whole lot of the time (especially in majority white spaces where minorities are afraid to speak up), and shamefully enough, I’ve let it go unremarked myself at times because I wasn’t in the mood to get into it with some drunk asshole at a party. But that doesn’t mean it’s defensible. After marginalizing and oppressing these cultures for so long, it seems like adding insult to injury to then turn them into huge, goofy caricatures on Halloween. Overt discrimination isn’t the only kind of racism that exists in this country. In fact, it’s increasingly this other, more insidious kind that we have to worry about. And no, having a token member of that race who is “cool with it” doesn’t make it okay. Try walking around a majority Asian neighborhood dressed like a slutty geisha or, I don’t know, a majority black neighborhood in blackface. What’s that? You wouldn’t? Why not? Oh yes, because you secretly know better than that. And that’s what these posters are trying to remind you.

Cue blustery white people defending their right to dress up as racist caricatures in 3…2…1!

(Via Clutch)

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  • Somnilee

    Why does the title completely contradict the article?
    It’s calling them killjoys where Jamie seems to be agreeing with their stance…

    • Aj

      …sarcasm?

  • Katrina

    I’m a little ashamed of myself for never noticing how common this is.
    At the risk of sounding like a complete twit though… Can some one explain the photo that the African-American girl is holding? I assume that person is wearing make up to appear African American, but to me it just looks like a somewhat homoerotic photo of a vampire about to have dinner. Who is supposed to be what?

    • Jamie Peck

      It’s a shitty picture, but according to a couple of blog posts I think that person is supposed to be Lil’ Wayne? I wasn’t going to get into this, but I think that’s kind of a bad example because Lil’ Wayne is a specific person, not a generalized stereotype. I mean, assuming that person is not actually in black face. In which case, yeah, it’s totally racist.

    • Daniela

      Actually, the person IS in black face, which is why they used that particular photo in the poster. So not only is the person in black face in general, but the ‘costume’ consists of the stereotypical ‘low-class, inner-city, scary-black-people gangster’ image. So that would be ridiculously racist x2. Not cool, white college girl. Not cool.

    • Jamie Peck

      Eek, nevermind! I read that it was a black person dressed up like Lil’ Wayne. But I guess not. THAT’S RACIST!

    • Goldie

      I don’t think they’re being overly sensitive. This happens a lot and no one says much about it. But I definitely think there’s a difference between dressing as a specific person/vocation and generalizing a whole ethnicity. To me, someone putting on a headdress and saying they’re an Indian for Halloween is offensive, but putting together a well-researched Geronimo costume might not be (not the best example but I couldn’t think of a better one).

      I know THAT Geisha looks cartoony but a Geisha is a specific vocation and not representative of all Asians. I get that the stereotype of the sexually submissive Asian woman is offensive, but at the same time I think Geishas are beautiful and an interesting part of Japanese history. I can see someone wanting to go as that for Halloween for the same reasons they’d want to be a ballerina, princess, etc.

      I’m not trying to defend racist caricatures, I’m just really curious where people think the line should be drawn. A black girl posted on a blog recently that she’s going as Shirley Temple– dress, high socks, lollipop, blond wig. I don’t see a problem with this. Shirley Temple is a cultural icon and everything she’s using for the costume makes her recognizable enough that she doesn’t have to paint her face white or do anything disguise her actual race. Can we apply this same standard to white people?

      I don’t think the girl in the Lil’ Wayne costume would have been recognized as him if she hadn’t painted her face black (not that she looks recognizable… I dunno, maybe the hat says something telling?) She obviously should have just scrapped that whole idea.

      Can a white person ever dress as someone of a different race? Can anyone?

    • Victoria

      @Goldie: I think the difference is that all night, that girl dressed as Shirley Temple is going to be called “Black Shirley Temple” – maybe not to her face, but SOMEONE’S going to say it. It’s possible for minorities to dress up as white characters but their race is always going to factor into it somehow, whereas a white person will not be called a “white geisha” – they’ll just be a geisha, because unfortunately white is the default in this country. Also, the white person has literally thousands upon thousands of white characters to choose from and doesn’t NEED to resort to race or ethnicity based costumes in order for their race to not be a factor, whereas the minorities have an extremely limited range of costumes – for example, I can’t think of a single Asian superhero, and I’m a total nerd who thinks about nothing but superheroes. So with that amount of options available to whites, why go for the one that’s probably going to offend someone?

  • Nico

    Self absorbed little college kids. Get over yourselves.

    • Jamie Peck

      And it begins!

  • Melissa

    I am Asian and personally I will be dressing up as an Asian mail-order bride for Halloween this year. IT’S HALLOWEEN – and it’s funny! I feel like really these people are being too sensitive. Should pilots and cops and maids be offended when girls dress up as slutty ones because it’s insensitive to their profession? Should Charlie Sheen be offended when people dress up as him as a joke because, “That’s who he is?” Should housewives be offended when people dress up as slutty housewives for Halloween? I don’t know, I feel like anyone who dresses up like a racial stereotype for Halloween is not intending to make fun of or make a joke of an entire race of people. Literally any Halloween costume (and to be honest MOST Halloween costumes) have the potential to offend SOMEONE. To have a campaign against Halloween costumes they feel are in bad taste is sort of ridiculous to me.

    • Jamie Peck

      1.) How would you feel if a white person dressed up as an Asian mail order bride? And taped their eyes to look more “Asian,” etc.? And talked in a ching chong voice? Not good, I bet. But you do bring up an interesting point: is it more acceptable for people to dress up as a stereotype if that stereotype is of a group they belong to?

      2.) It’s different than dressing up as different professions because pilots, cops, nurses, etc. are not historically oppressed groups. And it’s different from dressing up as a specific person because that person is A PERSON, not a generalized caricature of a whole group of people.

    • Melissa

      Actually no, I wouldn’t feel differently. And actually, I thought about doing those things to make myself look more Asian than I already look, so I guess that makes me racist. I wouldn’t feel differently if a white person wore my exact costume because IT’S HALLOWEEN.

      Also, maybe pilots and cops aren’t groups that are historically oppressed, but certainly housewives and flight attendants and maids are.

      I do realize that I may just be completely insensitive, but again I say, IT’S HALLOWEEN. Coming from someone who is a minority, I think it’s pretty annoying that minorities play the race card at every waking moment over every little thing. Lighten up!

    • R

      My mom is an RN and actually gets really offended by the whole “slutty nurse” thing. Like one time she started reading Stranger in a Strange Land and got offended because of the way the nurse was written. So like the whole slutty maids business, I think nurses who have been portrayed as weak females falling in love with patients and all that have a right to be offended.

  • Alejandro

    This is the most pointless campaign I’ve seen.

    It’s not benefiting anybody, it actually makes cultures look like they have some sort of low self-esteem and they’re all sensitive on how people look at them.

    Let’s see how many minorities make fun of this campaign in 3…2…1!

  • Sulayman F

    Great idea. In college, we had an incident where one idiot put on blackface and dressed up as a pimp. The school got many many complaints from black students and it led to a teach-in on campus.

    This isn’t overly sensitive; incidents like this only pave the way for more of it. Think of recent story this week about the high school teacher who wrote a bomb joke in a yearbook; she said it was only a joke but it led the whole class to join in on writing similar stuff in the kid’s book.

  • Marcia Iglesias

    lets ignorantly disrespect people because its only “Halloween”. yup, good argument. Although, I dont get mad when people dress up in a variety of “ethnic” costumes, I still think its important to stop and think how these costumes reflect a society’s views of cultures. I remember a while back there was a costume of an illegal alien, and yes I was very offended. People need to understand you could offend a culture during halloween and to understand ways of avoiding that.

  • D.

    Personally, I don’t find those costumes offensive. If someone were to dress up as a “Mexican” for Halloween, it would only make me think less of that individual’s judgement and sensitivity towards my culture. I’m not going to hate the person for it, we all have some growing up to do in some areas of our lives. Also, I’ve seen an uglier side of racism, so this isn’t going to phase me. On the other hand, I know that there are people who do get hurt and have their lives deeply affected by racial prejudice, even if it takes the form of a costume meant to do nothing more than elicit a few laughs. In my opinion, what these students are trying to express is the offense they have taken to this particular form of racism, showing how the seemingly “innocent” fun you’re having does hurt people’s feelings and perpetuates unappreciated stereotypes. I don’t think the point is to take away your right to do what you want, and your right to offend who you want, but more to show who you are offending. To some people, this does make the difference, and that is what matters. You can’t change the world, but you can change the way an individual perceives it, and that is a powerful impact in itself. The posters show the person who’s feelings you are hurting has a face. It isn’t about just offending “those people” it’s about the pain that a human being feels.

    • Jamie Peck

      Well said.

  • Nancy

    I thought the same thing after I read the first bit of your article; I was trying to think of justifications for them being overly sensitive but I couldn’t. I’d never really thought about this before.
    I think it doesn’t seem offensive when it’s a specific person, but a stereotype in general can be, unless done in an obviously ironic way, kind of like Melissa said. She’s Asian and going as an Asian mail-order bride. That’s funny.
    Whether being a specific person or not, I feel like the “blackface” is probably always going to offend people.
    I don’t know, I’m not part of a minority. I am partly from Native ancestry though, and it bugs me when people dress as “Indians” (Natives). Not a lot, because it’s Halloween and it’s just a standard Halloween costume….but still a little. (For the record, it REALLY bugs me when people say Indians instead of Native and when cover their mouth and make that yelling sound, What is that?! )
    Rant over.

  • CM

    I can not believe we actually send our kids to school to learn this load of rubbish. Halloween is fun, a way to take the lighter side of life. Who brain washed these kids to think this way. Culture not a costume, are you kidding me. Most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!!! Stick to science, math, English, try to make the world better. Why start another cause for to antagonize people??

  • E.W.

    This is so infuriatingly ridiculous. How is dressing up as a thug or a geisha racist? Those are TYPES OF PEOPLE (I mean, thugs/gangsters can be ANY race). If these extreme leftists are going to go as far as considering those costumes racist, then I’m assuming that would also eliminate costumes like cowboys, Hillbillies, Princess Jasmine and Pocahantas? Give me a break.

  • peterh

    Nobody is flooding and “integrating” black nations and ONLY black nations with non-blacks and calling native blacks evil racists for opposing their replacement. This is happening in white nations and ONLY in white nations. They say they are antiracist. What they are is antiwhite. Antiracist is a code word for antiwhite.

    • Jamie Peck

      Wow, I had no idea Native Americans were white! You learn something new every day.

    • spazdor

      You’d better be a European living in Europe or else your comment is horseshit.

  • jack

    It’s a false dilemma. You can be a culture and a costume–like pirates. Solved.

  • Magda

    I just want to be clear: If a person who is not a minority (ie white) dresses up in a way that parody’s a minority as a collective, but not an individual (like little Wayne, or Pancho Villa, or Mulan) then it is offensive and racist.
    But if a member of that specific minority group does it then it is ok?

    But then what about like Guido/Guidette costumes, or as some one else said, Hill-Billy costumes? Would those fall into the same category?

    What if a member of a minority decided to dress up as something considered quintessentially “White American” like a country western star or something? Is that the same thing? Or is it not offensive because it goes against the pattern of history, in that it is the minority mocking “The MAN”?

    Or what about something that crosses over many cultures, like the Cowboy? There is an American cowboy, and Argentinean gaucho, the Mexican caballero… All of these are different faces of the same thing. Where is the line, and who determines it?

    • Jamie Peck

      1.) Pretty much.
      2.) Those are somewhat tasteless as well. Then again, no one’s ever been lynched for being white, and “whiteface” was never a part of minstrel shows designed to preserve the idea that whites were inferior in the popular imagination.
      3.) Pretty much.
      4.) I’m not sure how this is relevant? I’m discussing caricatures of specific races and cultures, not jobs that cut across all cultures.

      The bottom line is, use some goddamn common sense. Why would you want to risk hurting people/making people think you’re an asshole when there are so many not-even-slightly-racist costumes you could wear instead? That is, unless you are proud of your racism. In which case, carry on (you suck).

    • Magda

      I’m not trying to be snarky. It was a legit inquiry.
      As a member of a minority group, I don’t necessarily get offended (to an extent) at some things. I take things on a situation by situation basis. However, I would never encroach on someone else’s right to take offense or be hurt or feel discriminated against by something that doesnt necessarily seem “that bad” to me.
      Everyone is different and entitled to feel differently about things. I whole heartedly disagree with racism or any sort of discrimination, whether its based on religion, sexual preference, gender, or skin color (to name a few). But I can also say that it upsets me to see people, even with in my own minority group display ignorance towards other people and cultures. Because that’s what racism is, ignorance. One of the truest things I have ever heard/read was “Among the truly educated there is no discrimination.”

  • Lisa H

    A lot of people are saying “Where’s the line?” as if there is some sort of authority who could just tell us where it is and then “Phwew!” we wouldn’t have to think for ourselves! How about we just rcognize that there IS in fact a difference dependin on the situation. White teen Muslim suicide bommer – racist negitive choice, young white girl as Jasmine = probably just her fav princess. Maybe we could all just use some common sense.

  • ashley

    WOw, people are really getting bent out of shape over stupid stuff. First off, I watched Dave Chappelle on several of his shows dress up in “white Face” as a reporter and “act white.” I was not offended and found it to be funny. SO why would it be any different of someone painted themselves darker and dress as a stereo type of a black person? They are STEREOTYPES!!! What do these rediculous posters say? “this is not who I am.” So if you of Middle Eastern decent or Muslim, and you’re not a radical terrorist, why let it bother you. They are not impersonating you then. People, this is the United States of America where everyone who is born in this country or awarded citizens ship has the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. If you don’t like it don’t look. But you have no business trying to infinge on others rights. There is nothing in the constituion or bill of rights that says you have the right to not be offended.

  • Val

    I’d only dress up as a Geisha if, and ONLY if, I had researched the outfit properly, made it historically accurate, and made it look classy not slutty. I’m a white girl who is deeply interested in other cultures, so I don’t see that particular outfit as racist unless the person was doing it to be slutty or talked in a bad accent. Now… I do see why all the other ones are offensive. But, the geisha one…. I’m having a hard time seeing that as racist. It’s like what so many other ppl have said, that’s it’s like dressing up as your idol or because you do respect the culture. If that is racist, then I don’t want anybody dressing up as a Voodoo Master and pretending they are from the Bayou. (I’m a Cajun girl lol). But, since I don’t find it racist, go ahead and have a fake dynamite with the words “Cajun Fishing Pole” and yell out, “Aiiiyyyyyeeee!!!!” like a good Cajun would XD.

  • Roger

    Whats next, Romanians being mad at being portrayed as a vampire, Egyptians being ticked off at being portrayed as a mummy, even a midget being portrayed as an ewok or an Irish person as a leprechaun. Let it go people, if you have a problem then you have a problem an your problem alone.

  • moni

    I am Hawaiian and don’t mind at all if you are caucasian and want to wear an aloha shirt, or hula costume…..more power to you….it’s all about exploring culture and having fun. Ease up on the lynching worries.

  • Vinhulk

    If I put on a George Lopez mask, is it ok for me to go around and, in character, make racist white jokes like he used to do on tv?
    Or perhaps, like him, make jokes about Asian people and their favorite Fox TV show, “Gree?”

    Why can I dress up like Arnold Schwarzenegger and walk around doing a bad impersonation, mocking his accent, but if I dress up like Jackie Chan and do the same, I am now racist? Has it EVER crossed anyone’s mind to stand up to someone and stop them from mocking the ole immigrant California governor’s accent?

    Why can I not dress up in a suit with an Obama mask and paint my hands mildly brown, but it IS ok to follow his lead and mock a member of congress’s skin color, John Boehner, by wearing a suit, a Boehner mask and dying my hands orange with sunless tanning oil? Our president’s half white last time I checked, why can’t I claim him? Anyone go around as the Incredible Hulk with blue skin? Doesn’t quite fit the character now does it?

    Black Trash, Asian Trash, Hispanic Trash: sounds pretty terrible doesn’t it? Let’s all take a pledge to stop using the term “white trash” around all our friends and eliminate this repulsive, vile form of hate speech.

    We’re either all equal or we’re not. Being offensive on purpose makes you a jerk; a term that knows no skin color, only character. On the other hand, being offended by someone doesn’t give you the automatic highground or moral superiority either. Let’s all come to the table of togetherness and break some halloween candy with our fellow man or woman. Lighten up America! We are all in it together, as one!

  • Roger

    So are you saying there isn’t Muslims who use themselves as as human bombs? Or Asians the dress in kimonos? Or blacks like to drink malt liquor and have bad teeth?

    They aren’t implying EVERYONE of that race is like that; but the truth is there is TRUTH to each of these costumes. If that is offensive to people maybe they should go look and wonder if there is any truth to the costume. Odds are there is.

    I’m white; I’m not offended when people dress like Rednecks or Trailer Park Trash. Should I be? No, because those people aren’t me. Not every Black person represents the Black community. Get over yourselves.

  • Jack Charity

    Well, you know who else is being disrespected this time of year by insensitive costume-wearers?

    http://transphasic.com/lol/00_buzz.png

  • Sulman

    If you think people are being overly sensitive you are clearly out of touch with the rest of the world.

    Of course you have the token minorities who are o.k. with it. Seriously just because you are o.k. with it does not mean everyone else is.

    No one is taking away your rights to act like an asshole, but that doesn’t take away the rights of everyone to tell you how much of an asshole you are. The whole “its just halloween guys” is BS.

  • lex

    Well, clearly I’m behind on all this Halloween business, but this is relevant, well written, and worth your time. http://www.racialicious.com/2011/10/31/open-letter-to-the-pocahotties-and-indian-warriors-this-halloween/#more-18768