Wow, Look at Your Costume! It's so...Racist?

by c.papadopoulos on October 28, 2014 - 11:58pm

The article “’Racist’ Halloween costumes stir debate” by Marlene Habib of CBC News posted on October 27th, 2011 discusses the issue of people wearing Halloween costumes that some members of different ethnic groups find rather offensive, and well, racist. A campaign was launched by Ohio University’s Students Teaching About Racism in Society, also known as STARS, and fired up much debate as to whether or not wearing ethnically influenced clothing was appropriate. STARS’ campaign featured many students of different ethnicities holding up posters that read “we’re a culture, not a costume” and also displayed pictures of people with blackface, people dressed up as natives, people dressed up as terrorists, etc. As word of this campaign hit Canada, Canadians reacted in two ways: some were thrilled that this campaign was doing the job in raising awareness on the issue, while others were irritated by it and believed that it was pointless. On one of the many media websites which discussed/advertized this campaign, “RussianInCanada” disagreed with it and commented that any Halloween costume is offensive to at least one person and that Halloween in general is offensive to almost everyone. Another blogger, Jarrah Hodge of New Westminster, B.C., commented that costume companies are continuously trying to come up with better ways of enhancing racial and cultural appropriation while sexualizing women in every way possible. Brent Farrington, a campaigner associated with the Ottawa-based Canadian Federation of Students, CFS, concluded by stating that making fun of one’s background even if it’s on one day a year is not a valid excuse nor is it ok. It’s due to this recent shift of culture in society that makes people believe that it’s appropriate to wear such things as blackface and other ethnic clothing one day a year and think nothing negative about it.

It’s ironic that I came across this article so close to Halloween and that we just finished discussing this issue in class not too long ago, meaning it should still be fresh in our minds. I personally believe that Halloween isn’t meant to be a racist day; however it COULD be offensive and racist to a certain extent. It’s the people who dress up as the KKK, or wear blackface to depict Trayvon Martin, for example, who make us question whether Halloween is offensive or not. I see nothing wrong with kids and teens dressing up as their favourite superheroes or favourite Disney characters for Halloween because those impersonations are good and memorable ones that most of us love. But when a group shows up at a party dressed up as the KKK, well, we can’t really say that they bring up good memories, knowing what happened in the past. I do not agree with what “RussianInCanada” had to say, because he made it sound like it’s natural for Halloween to be offensive and that it should be offensive, when it’s not. Dressing up isn’t a sin; we just need to think carefully about who or what we’re impersonating. I agree with Brent Farrington that some people take Halloween a little to the extreme with things like wearing Blackface and the KKK, but these people don’t realize just how offensive it is due to this cultural shift in society that makes us believe it’s tolerable and ok. This article was well-written in the sense that it shared what many bloggers had to say about this campaign and about this issue, and it was really great to see that the article brought in some Canadian perspective as well. However, the article did not express any opinions from the students of STARS’ campaign, which could’ve been useful to hear about what they had to say about it. In sum, I never really thought about Halloween being this offensive until now, it’s been quite the eye-opener. I believe this is a debate that will last a long while before it’s put to rest due to many of the different clashing views, values and ethnicities of individuals. I believe that once a year when Halloween comes around, before picking a costume, we should ask ourselves: “Will this costume be offensive to some people in any way?”  and consider changing or modifying it if we even slightly think it might be. It won’t hurt us to change or modify our costumes, but it just might hurt others if we don’t.














Habib, M. (2011, October 27). Racist Halloween costumes stir debate. Retrieved from


I agree that we should keep in mind that wearing stereotypical costumes may offend different cultures. There has been controversy about this on a national level with sports teams, Washington Redskins, for example. People see these issues from different perspectives that is for sure. Freedom of expression or racism, interesting topics.

I definitely think people should be aware of the types of costume that they choose to wear. While it is a day where you get to dress up a something you are not, people also need to be mindful and make sure what they are wearing does not offend someone of another culture or race. I remember last Halloween when Julianne Hough dressed up in an orange jumpsuit and painted her skin to resemble an African-American. That was extremely controversial and she was being labeled racist and that same costume that she chose to wear last year came up in the news again this year. With that one costume, she offended people of all different races and it shows if it came up again after a year has gone by.

The article titled “Wow, Look at Your Costume! It's so...Racist?” brings up a very controversial question. Where do we draw the line between racism and comedy? I’ve seen a lot of costumes throughout the past few years where there is a definite gray area. For example at the Halloween store, I saw a costume that included a poncho and sombrero and was called “Mexican Sombrero Costume”. I wouldn’t consider this costume offensive because I don’t believe that it insults any ethnicity. However, I recently saw on the news a group of college students who decided to have a “black” party on MLK day in which students dressed in basketball uniforms and drank out of watermelon cups. I believe that this crosses the line from funny to disrespectful because it insults hundreds of years of fighting for equality. It would be interesting for me to see how people of other ethnic descents feel about these issues and where they would draw the line. I don’t see any reason to be hyper-sensitive about ethnicity and race; however I find it very offensive when people use other’s ethnicity as an insult.

I would like to begin by acknowleding the stregth of some of the arguments made in your article. You stated that although Halloween has the potential to be offensive and racist it doesn't necessarilly have to be entirely defined by these aspects. You also pointed out the fact that if the spirit of Halloween is preserved by depicting characters or personas that allow one to recollect postive memories or that express good messages and ideals one can avoid sullying this tradition altogether. I completely agree with you. However, unlike you, I have always struggled with certain aspects of Halloween. More specifically, I dislike how certain people choose to celebrate it. At the beginning of your artcile you quoted a blogger that argued the point that not only are there racial issues, but that Halloween is a time where certain industries make profit off the sexualization of women while promoting their race appropriate costumes. I have an issue both with the sexualization and objectification certain women tend to embrace during this night. This is not based off an entitlement I feel to define the appropriateness of their sexual expression, but because Halloween is meant to have an innocent, funny, or spooky spirit to it (At least for me). It shouldn't be tainted by racist or overly sexual costumes. It isn't a day to take stereotypes of different races or to sexualize certain characters. It is a day where we are allowed to "pretend" we are something else, something we admire, find funny, or a way to express our creativity.

I really enjoyed reading your article, it was interesting to read. After having read it though, I came up with the conclusion that the theory you hold is called Act Utilitarian. I suggest you read Chapter 4 in “Introduction to Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics” to get a better understanding of the theory that you hold.

Given your take on the issue, I would say you hold the principle of a Social Contract theorist. In order to create equality and peace among everyone, you think that Halloween should be a time where happiness is generated in a non-offensive way. This can also relate to Utilitarianism, although by the fact that you agree with the fact that some people do not know how to see something as racist and avoid it as a Halloween costume. When you ask yourself if a costume could be in any way offensive, you are making sure that by wearing a costume, no one feels left out or discriminated, in this way you agree to participate in Halloween without shaming anyone, which I think is great.
If you take a look at this link, it will give you a greater perspective on what I mean about the Social Contract Theory:

Hey, I really enjoyed your reading your article and I think you made some really good points and observations. I feel this is a rising issue that needs to be addressed before it becomes too out of control. I am seeing more and more racist costumes on social media and with my own eyes. I wanted to point out that the majority of these racist costumes seem to be worn by man. Men dressed as Trayvon, pimps, athelets or entertainers that wear black face or men that dress in religious wear. I think that too much energy is put into making sexy women costumes. As male costumes seem to get more racist, women ones seem to be getting more and more sexy to the point where they might as well come out in their underwear. I think the lack of options for men are what causes them to make their own costumes which lead to these racist disasters that I think most of them think is funny and they don't even realize how stupid and offensive they are being. Obviously they are some that do and don't care. But I feel most of these costumes are an attempt at joke gone horribly wrong. Costume makers need to stop taking their focus off of sexualizing Halloween and make more appropriate costumes for women and have more options for men.

I was attracted by the title, how could a costume be so racist? After reading the post, I found this article is interesting, but the topic is pointless. I never thought being racist could have any relationship with the Halloween costume. The Halloween costume is just a personal choice or preference for a festival. Nowadays, young children dress up as some super stars or Disney characters that seem very normal. Why some people pay attention and think what is the object of wearing this costume. For example of a blog, some would focus on the people who dress up as a “colored people” or “blackface” in London. These facts are actually ironic for me. The dressing of Halloween is just for fun and memorable, not offensive, why we need to care of the different choice of costume. Even wearing a Blackface is not a sin, we should realize that costume is just a personal preference, do not related a cultural festival with racism.


Your title Wow, Look at Your Costume! It’s so…Racist? caught my attention because my teacher brought out this subject not a long time ago therefore it still fresh in my mind. I strongly agree with the fact that dressing up like KKK or terrorist can be hurtful for a lot of people from different ethnic background. Such as some of the Disney movies, they are using terrible events in order to make money. It is problematic since they are reinforcing some stereotypes and making fun of them. I think that everyone should be more careful when it’s time to choose a costume because a lot of people can be hurt. A lot of white people think that changing the colour of their face can be fun but it is hurting and embarrassing people of colour since they don’t have that possibility. Being black is not a costume but someone’s daily life and maybe the reason why he is intimidated. Therefore I agree that even though Halloween happens once a year it does not mean that people has the right to ridicule other ethnic groups and non-white people. Why dressing up as Hitler should be unforgettable but dressing up like an aboriginal person is ok?

On a somewhat unrelated note, I think that before choosing a Halloween costume that might be considered racist to another culture, we must think of mental health. Many people might be oblivious to the fact they are discriminating and don't understand the effect they might have. An example of this I would like to address, would be dressing up as Indigenous people for Halloween. Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that Indigenous Australians are twice as likely to die by suicide as non-Indigenous Australians, and are almost three times more likely to experience psychological distress.
A potential solution: stop and think before I make a decision for a Halloween costume. Might I potentially offend a specific group of people? If so, just pick something else. I mean there are literally a million different options for costumes out there that aren't racist, it shouldn't be too hard to pick one.
It may seem harmless to someone at the time, but who knows what might happen to them next, they could have some serious mental health issues down the road. Do you want to be responsible for that?

Hi there, I really enjoyed reading this post considering you've made some very interesting points and observations about issues I didn't quite think were issues…To me, Halloween all in all is just a complete mess. What I mean by this is that people are running out of ideas to try and come up with the most original and/or funny costume out there and too often they fetch way too far, creating this racist problematic. Moreover, I believed it’s also becoming a gendered issue in the way that girls are expected to undress and boys are expected to get ‘manly’ costumes like Batman and if that isn’t possible, it has to at least be funny or entertaining. Sadly, in many cases, this becomes offensive. Too many of these costumes are directed towards a certain group in a way that is rude and disrespectful. For example blonds, ‘nerds’, girls in general, people of color, sex object/organs…And as for girls, I find it saddening that the ‘norm’ today tells girls that your Halloween costume has to look sexy or cute and not just REAL. I am honestly all for sex positive messages but sometimes I want to tell girls that it’s okay if they want to dress up as Thor or Scream…they don’t have to be ‘Slutty Elsa’ if they don’t want or feel like it! Society has come to a point where they feel the need to alter (literally alter) women’s costumes to make them look sexier even if the said costume is just as innocent as a Teletubby. On top of that, we are starting to see this not only in women’s costumes but in girls (as in toddlers!) costumes too. I believe we need to rethink Halloween and the values we attribute to it. We need a fresh start, a day where people can actually dress up not dress down or dress to offend.

Here's a bunch of other examples of ridiculous women costumes: