Halloween is a time for candy and friends, not offensive costumes
The nights are getting longer, the shadows are getting darker, Halloween has arrived! It’s time to dress up as your favourite hero or villain, indulge in some candy and attend some costume parties. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, if you’ve been looking at some costume choices over the years, you might have noticed that Halloween is not only a time for sweets and dressing up as a zombified Star Wars character. Halloween can also be a time where -isms and phobias — racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia and so on — are in full force.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We know that not all of these nasty costume choices are intentional. If you want to look and feel great this Halloween, while avoiding the perpetuation of nasty narratives, then this is the guide for you!
What to avoid:
Eddie Jude is the women and trans support staff with the Community Action Centre (CAC). Jude said that they have seen many offensive Halloween costumes, but each has a general theme: “Making fun of a marginalized group by playing off offensive and hurtful stereotypes and or stealing elements of a marginalized group’s culture by people who are not of that group.”Jude also noted how any costumes which make light of or imitate trans people are hurtful and offensive, so if you were thinking of dressing up as Caitlyn Jenner, please don’t. “The idea that trans women are something to be joked about and mocked perpetuates that trans women are not real, when in fact, they are women,” Jude said. “The whole ‘man in a dress’ costume trope is very transphobic and transmisogynist.”
Ming Ma, a LGBTQ+ students’ support staff with the CAC, said that he has seen students in blackface at a downtown Toronto university. People: please don’t do blackface. “Racism is a serious issue. It’s in poor taste to dress up as a member of a marginalized group,” said Ma.
Along the same lines, if you were thinking of paying tribute to the awesome work of Black Lives Matter (BLM) this Halloween, you might want to steer clear according to Arielle Sugarman, disabilities students’ support staff with the CAC. Sugarman, who spotted a BLM ‘protester’ costume online, said that it “was a mockery of a global movement to end anti-black racism and challenge police brutality, and reduces that into a harmful, racist joke.”
Sugarman has also seen problematic costumes depicting disability, where people dress in straight-jackets or sit in wheelchairs. “I think that folks may not realize how harmful Halloween costumes that are based around disability are,” Sugarman said. “To dress up as someone in a wheelchair, or as someone who’s blind, or the ‘mental patient’ costume, is something that contributes to the assumption that disability is something that can be taken on or off.”
Brit Ellis, the CAC First Nations, Inuit and Metis student support staff, doesn’t want to see any costume which is emulating indigenous stereotypes. “Dressing in stereotypical ‘native’ attire for Halloween, think buckskin, fringe, headdress, warpaint and so on, especially if you belong to a dominant group in society, directly contributes to the continued fetishization of indigenous women and girls as well as the erasure of our traditions, ceremony and cultural practices,” said Ellis.
What to try:
According to Jude, one of the main things to do to avoid an offensive costume is to be creative. “There are so many costume possibilities that do not revolve around making fun of or degrading people or people’s cultures.” Jude added, “consider what stereotypes you are playing into and perpetuating when your costume is the real clothing or cultural practices of other people.”
For Ma, it’s about thinking through what your costume means. “Does the costume I want represent a certain culture? Has the culture experienced significant marginalization? Will I perpetuate stereotypes about certain groups by wearing this costume?”
“Dressing up can be amazingly fun,” added Ellis. “Take care to remember that just because something doesn’t affect you directly does not mean it isn’t contributing to a larger, louder, narrative that does actual harm to those communities.”
So instead of throwing on a costume that would ruin someone’s night, why not dress up as one of the cast members from Stranger Things, or Star Wars? Why not dress as your favorite meme? (No, we don’t mean Harambe.) There are plenty of options out there that could win you best costume, so pick an outfit that’ll get you looks for all the right reasons this season.
With files from Malcolm Derikx