Amidst the pumpkin, superhero, and princess costumes, Halloween can become an aid for ignorance to emerge its ugly head through racially-offensive costumes.
Some people choose to reinforce cultural stereotypes by portraying a sombrero wearing, fast-speaking illegal alien, a sexualized Geisha, or purchasing dread wigs and other ethnic type extensions to mock black culture.
Last year, students at Ohio University were fed up with these types of mischaracterizations and created an organization to fight against it called “Student Teaching Against Racism” also known as STARS. The group’s campaign “We’re a Culture, not a Costume,” raises awareness through campus posters to emphasize how offensive and harmful stereotyped depictions can be.
STARS’ President Sarah Williams said the campaign was warmly received by about 80 percent of the student body. However, she said ten percent of students reacted negatively which she believes is “rooted in ignorance and white privilege.”
The unfortunate reality is that there are too many people who believe STARS’ efforts can dampen their fun rather than considering their detrimental influence on others.
Many people who participate in racially-offensive costuming often find ways to rationalize it. For example, a white person who may dress up as a blackface Barack Obama or in a Lil Wayne costume might think it is acceptable if they have black friends who find it entertaining by taking photos with them.
David J. Leonard, an associate professor and chair of the department of critical culture, gender, and race studies at Washington State University believes these types of passive sentiments effect how cultures view and interact with each other beyond the Halloween season.