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Halloween Costumes That Aren't A Good Look

It’s that time of year again! Halloween! Personally, we love a holiday that centers around getting and giving candy. Dressing up is fun too, but as usual, there are plenty of racist and cultural appropriation options out there to choose from. Our advice: just don’t. If you find yourself wondering if your costume might be racist or an ethnic stereotype then you should probably try to think of something else to be. 

We still love this campaign from a few years ago where a group of young people made posters that drew attention to racist Halloween costumes by reminding us that a culture doesn’t make a good costume and perpetuating negative stereotypes is irresponsible. We did a quick search of this year’s Halloween costumes on some popular websites, and it was pretty disturbing how quickly we found a bunch of costumes based on racial and ethnic stereotypes. We also found a few that are just foolish. We decided to deconstruct some of the costumes we found.

China Doll/ Sexy Geisha


So tired. This is one that comes up every year proving that this whole conversation about cultural appropriation is slow moving. Remember when Katy Perry did that performance at the American Music Awards with a sexualized Geisha theme? People were upset about that for good reason. The fetishization of Asian women is dangerous with 41-61% of Asian women experiencing sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime and between 5,000-8,000 Asian women being trafficked into the US each year for sex slavery, the highest for any ethnic group. For a great article that covers why the common media stereotypes, reinforced by Halloween costumes, are harmful to the Asian community go here. 

Baby Duck Dynasty Costume


Baby costumes are super cute. Especially when you dress babies up like adults. Ever seen a baby dressed in a business suit? Adorable. But when picking a costume for your baby it might be best to avoid dressing them up like an openly homophobic TV personality. Phil Robertson is the bearded patriarch of the popular Duck Dynasty show. He has made many comments about how his Christian beliefs give him the understanding that homosexuality is wrong even going so far as to say, “I’m as much of a homophobe as Jesus was.” He has also said in sermons that homosexuals are, “full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless.” Maybe dressing your baby up as someone who has such hateful things to say isn’t a great idea. And for the record, you can go here to find out exactly what Jesus says about homosexuality in the Bible.

Sexy Locked Up! Women's Prison Costume 


The United States has more people in our prisons than any other country in the world. The overwhelming majority of the people behind bars are people of color. Our prison system rips families apart. Mass incarceration is such a huge problem in our communities that Sesame Street, a popular children’s program, did a whole episode on incarceration and how it feels to have a parent or family member in prison. A recent government study found that an estimated 80,000 prison and county jail inmates experienced sexual abuse in the 12 months before the survey was conducted. Higher rates of abuse were found in inmates who identified as LGBTQ, had a history of mental illness, and minors within adult facilities. Dressing up as a sexy prisoner might seem cool in light of the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black, but your ability to dress up as a prisoner for one night mocks the lived experience of hundreds of thousands of people across the country who can’t go home at the end of the day and wipe the effects of incarceration out of their lives.

Teen SWAT Costume 


Last spring the people of Albuquerque, New Mexico took to the streets to peacefully protest ongoing police brutality and use of excessive force by the Albuquerque Police Department. They were met with tanks and police officers in riot gear. This summer the people of Ferguson, Missouri took to the streets to peacefully protest the killing of a young black man by a white police officer and ongoing racialized police brutality in their community. They were met with tear gas, riot gear, police armed with weapons created for war, and tanks. It is estimated that up to 50,000 SWAT raids happen in the US each year. Usually SWAT raids are used to execute a search warrant and not always in the flashy mass drug bust style we see on TV. Often SWAT is used to execute search warrants for small amounts of drugs or stolen goods and  frequently end up doing mass arrests for unrelated charges of people within the home. Sometimes they throw flash grenades into cribs and injure young children. All the fun you want from a costume? John Oliver does a much better job of breaking down the issues with a militarized police force than we ever could in a short paragraph so head over to watch his deconstruction. Why a young girl would want to dress up as a cute version of one of the most terrifying parts of living in America is beyond us. We should be trying to demilitarize the police, not celebrating or normalizing it. Here’s hoping your Halloween party doesn’t get raided.

Sexy Women’s Elite Mayan Queen Costume


First off, yes, that is the actual name of this costume! It’s one of many under the “Sexy Indian Costumes” category, which includes 16 equally as offensive costumes and sadly, half of which are already sold out. Some of these sold out costumes being “Sexy Rain Dancing Diva Indian Costume” and “Sexy Tribal Trouble Indian Costume.”

Secondly, no! Do not under any circumstance purchase let alone wear such a racist and sexist costume. Indigenous people are not costumes; they are people, cultures, families worthy of respect, dignity, and are not to be degraded to a highly offensive Halloween costume.  Women are not sex objects nor should their primary, and in many case only, Halloween costume choices be bathing suits. Also, Indigenous/First Nations/Native American women are not a combination of these two stereotypes, they are strong, resilient, intelligent, and definitely not here to serve you, to be your princess, to make it rain for you, but maybe to cause some trouble in addressing these ignorant costumes. It doesn’t matter if they are costumes of Indigenous people from the North, Central, or South America, it is just not okay. The very fact that this is even an option as a Halloween costume is absurd. 

Take the “Sexy Women’s Elite Mayan Queen Costume” for example. The description reads: “Prepare for doomsday in this sexy Mayan queen costume.” No, just plain no! The very diverse Mayan peoples(and yes they do exist and they didn't disappear like you might have heard on National Geographic)  did not believe that the world would end in 2012. Many believe that 2012 was the start of a new cycle of rebirth and a second Y2K.  And, yes of course all Mayan queens have light skin, look European, are tall, wear heels all the time as they walk in the Central American jungle, wear corsets, have big breasts, and apply tons of make-up...or not. 

If you want to read more about offensive Halloween costumes, check out this Colorlines Magazine article.

For a great resource on how to talk to your friends that might have picked a racist costume this year click here