When Halloween Costumes Racially Go Too Far

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"It just reflects how we talk about race in contemporary society," he says. "It reflects the overall belief that race doesn't matter, or that it only matters when people of color — who are accused of being overly sensitive, or 'playing the race card' — bring it up," Leonard said.

Often the common reaction to this type of reprimand is “But I’m not racist.” However, Leonard feels that this response focuses more on “Who you are” rather than “What you did.” It becomes identity based rather than action-based when participants don’t realize the influential power behind their actions.

"There's this sense of 'I don't know why people have to make it a big deal,' " said Leslie Picca, associate professor of sociology at the University of Dayton in Ohio. Picca’s book Two Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage evaluates the misrepresentation of white racial attitudes. The book also notes how difficult it is for young adults to see the implications of stereotypical costuming because they believe they are living in a colorblind world.

College students are not the only ones at fault. Stephanie Troutman, an assistant professor of women, gender, African, and African-American studies at Berea College believes adults are just as guilty.

Troutman said that the freedom of expression has clouded the harmful truths behind these actions that appear to be innocently created. She explained that within the discussion of these issues “the context, the history, and the significant matter,” is often lost.

As Halloween party-goers prepare for the holiday, Leonard hopes that “offendees” will take a stand to dismiss this behavior rather than “hiding behind a mask of ignorance about racism in America.”

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