They’re ba-ack! (shudder) With Halloween quickly approaching, and costume shops like Spirit Halloween opening their doors, many of us are cringing at the thought of another Halloween full of racism, sexism, heterosexism and the full range of offensive apparel we annually witness.
In response, we offer up a toolkit to those who wish to be a part of resisting the dominant paradigms that plague this season. Let’s make this be a season to reclaim and expand our expressive imaginations from being steered into narrow, tired, offensive and uncreative marketing channels.
Not sure what exactly is so offensive about certain Halloween costumes?
The Sexy Debate
The “sexy” costume phenomenon is complex. On one hand, women ought to be empowered and have the freedom to dress as they wish without fear of the all-too-common repercussions – slut-shaming, violence and objectification. We ought to be able to dress as we wish without having to fear that we are reproducing tired, binary gender stereotypes. We ought to be able to have a deep, healthy and vibrant sense of our own sexuality without fear of being told we’re asking for trouble by being suggestive. Girls ought to be allowed to explore their sexuality without increased risk of unwanted advances and harassment. On the other hand, these consequences are real. And if you look at any Spirit or costume catalog – sexy costumes are becoming, more and more, the ONLY option, to the point of absurdity. Even for female toddlers. On some level, they are all variations of the same costume.
As Halloween continues to become an increasingly hyper-commercialized event, currently an $8 billion industry, the sexualization of female costumes, the narrowing of conventional beauty standards and the ways this is connected to the oversexualization of women and girls, and the general sexist devaluation of women in society IS a problem. If women and girls are only allowed to exist as no more than sexual objects, who exist for the pleasure of others and should feel best about themselves when dressed suggestively, but who are blamed for the violence perpetrated against them because they dressed suggestively in the only costumes available on the market, while men are held to a different standard, then sexy costumes AS A PHENOMENON are not necessarily empowering. They are something else entirely. On top of this, many sexy costumes on the market today have a heavy amount of racism and cultural appropriation woven in – which is definitely not empowering.
The Issue of Objectifying Other Cultures
“There are many good reasons not to wear a costume that relies on racist stereotypes or caricatures. Costumes like these communicate negative ideas and assumptions about people of that race or ethnicity, and as this year’s posters say, that stigma stays with people of color long after you take the costume off. Wearing racist costumes also creates a hostile environment for people of that race, who may not appreciate seeing their identity, culture or community mocked and distorted while they’re trying to relax and have a good time. Costumes like these demonstrate disrespect and ignorance on behalf of the costume-wearer. Finally, they aren’t funny or creative. Really. This is one widely celebrated holiday where creativity is actively encouraged, and all a racist costume does is prove that the wearer knows how to recycle old, tired bigotry. They’re similar to racist “jokes:” unoriginal and offensive.” (By Sarah Appelbaum)
A few costumes to avoid:
Suicide Bomber, Geisha, Gangster, Redneck, Gypsy, Native American, Indian Princess, Illegal Alien, Sugar Skull, Muslim Terrorist, Hitler, Any Victim or Perpetrator of Sexual, Homophobic or Racist Violence, Any Costume in which you are Dressing as a Stereotyped Person from Another Race or Culture, Anything that Stigmatizes Mental Illness or Poverty, Oversexualized Version of an Otherwise Interesting Costume
Want to take action? Yes!
3 – Take a picture of you doing #2. And/or, take a picture of costumes you see that reclaim creative, fantastically weird and spooky imagination. Email us your photos at whitenoisecollective(at)gmail(
4 – Talk to people. Identify your sphere of influence, and have the difficult conversations. What an opportunity for a learning experience. Here are some tips: How to Inform a Friend Their Halloween Costume Is Racist
5 – Hand the Appreciation or Appropriation? flyer out to folks wearing costumes mimicking Native people (throughout the year, music festivals in particular).
Check out these resources for more in depth thinking:
Costume Mirrors: Halloween and beyond – a blog from our collective that takes a critical look at the harm of the stereotypical representations and the ways they maintain oppressive norms and stigmas
The one stop for all your “Indian costumes are racist” needs! – an updated piece from the Native Appropriations site about the ways “Indian” costumes are hurtful and dangerous
Seven Racist Costumes to Avoid This Halloween – a great piece from Colorlines that lays out an all too common variety of racist costumes to avoid
Racy, Sexy, and Culturally Appropriate-y: It’s Halloween Again, Folks! – a dynamic piece breaking down some the patriarchy and racism that shows up in Halloween
Trying to think of some more creative costume ideas? Here you go:
Things You Can Be On Halloween Besides Naked!!!
I Am Not Your Halloween Costume
Creative Costumes of Still-Practiced Pagan Rituals of Europe
20 Incredibly Bizarre Vintage Halloween Costumes
22 DIY Halloween Costumes For Kids, Adults And Even Pets That You Can Make This Weekend