Ah the beginning of fall. The air is a little colder, the colors a little more orange, and there is no shortage of pumpkin flavored products. Yet there is one sign of the turning seasons that is truly unwelcome…racist, sexist, heterosexist, and colonialist costumes — already in full force in stores around the country. Enter into any Spirit Halloween store and you will find the full gamut of costumes perpetuating cultural appropriation, racist stereotypes, Indigenous erasure and hetero-misogyny.
At a time when Black Lives Matter has become a resounding movement pressing for the safety, humanity and freedom of Black people, the corporate costume industry is supporting mass consumption of Black face and racialized prisoner outfits.
As indigenous people from across this land join together at Standing Rock to resist the continued desecration and destruction of homelands, culture and even their physical existence, this colonialist culture perpetuates indigenous erasure with images of “Indian headdresses” and “Warrior Princesses.”
After a year of watching rape cases on college campuses hit national headlines and heroic womyn speak truth to power in the face of continued slut shaming and objectification, the amount of “sexy” costumes on shelves remains dizzying.
In response to this destructiveness, we offer up a toolkit (found below) 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?
“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 likely don’t 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)
The “sexy” costume phenomenon is complex. On one hand, women and femmes 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. We ought to be allowed to explore our 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 optionmarketed to women, to the point of absurdity. Even for 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 women costumes, the narrowing of conventional beauty standards and the ways this is connected to the oversexualization of women, girls and femmes, and the general sexist devaluation of women and femmes in our society IS a problem. If we are only allowed to exist as no more than sexual objects, who exist for the pleasure of others and should feel best about ourselves when dressed suggestively, but who are blamed for the violence perpetrated against us because we 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.
Just 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!
2 – Print out this handy front and back flyer, cut into 3, and hang on or tape to offensive costumes in stores.
3 – Take a picture or video of you doing #2. Post your photos on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram & beyond using #BlackLivesMatter #NoDAPL #HauntSpirit #ThisIsRacist #NotBuyingIt #MyCultureIsNotACostume. Tweet @SpiritHalloween that we want more creative choices.
And/or, take a picture of costumes you see that reclaim creative, fantastically weird and spooky imagination. Tag them #GetCreativeThisHalloween. Spread the word!
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 or Cultural Appropriation mini-zine (cut & fold instructions) out to folks wearing culturally imitative costumes or 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
Picking a Halloween Costume? Watch This Cupcake Tutorial First – Using cupcake-making as a metaphor, Kat Lazo has a fabulous new video that breaks down the way that Halloween has become a sad excuse for cultural appropriation, misogyny and a lot more.
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: