How do you pick a Halloween costume that isn’t offensive?
This year’s standard conversation about which Halloween costumes are acceptable and which ones are not centered around two Pottery Barn costumes: sushi chef, with a fake knife and a Japanese flag, and a kimono.
There are some costumes that are pretty well accepted as unacceptable. For example, this year, some kids dressed as George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin—complete with black face. Last year, the Duke Women’s Lacrosse team got in some trouble for the same thing when they dressed up as characters from The Little Rascals. Don’t forget the Native American or Asian themed frat parties, either.
You don’t want to make a caricature out of someone’s heritage or identity, but where do we draw the line of what is acceptable?
One can say that racial or ethnic stereotypes are off the table. So that includes donning Native American feather hats, Mexican ponchos and Pottery Barn’s geisha look. I remember having two trick-or-treating buddies in kindergarten or first grade who dressed up as Mulan and Jasmine from Aladdin, and both girls were Caucasian. Are Disney characters an exception? (Full disclosure: I was Madeline that year, but I’m not French.)
Sushi chefs, however, aren’t necessarily Japanese. So is the costume offensive to chefs? Is wearing a plumber costume with the rear-end hanging out offensive to plumbers? Should the president and his supporters take issue with the cartoonish rubber Obama masks you can buy at Party City? Should Miley Cyrus be offended if we wear her VMA outfit and link arms with a Robin Thicke look-alike? I can’t even begin to address the question of whether or not women should be offended by most mass-marketed female costumes.
After UC Boulder posted a list of costumes students should avoid (including “ghetto” or “hillbilly” styles), a Denver Post columnist concluded that the only safe costume might be the devil. But does that offend devil-worshippers?
I think the only way to pick a costume is common sense. Don’t wear something that will make someone around you uncomfortable, and don’t forget that these days, your pictures easily spread around the Internet.
Pottery Barn stopped selling their Asian-themed costumes. But I think I’ll wear my safari costume tonight without worrying if I’m offending a 19th century British colonist.