Don't Offend People This Halloween
Published on October 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

Every year, I'm amazed by the reports that inevitably surface of people thinking it's a good idea to dress in, say, blackface on Halloween. This is one of those things people should know not to do, and yet people - grown-ups! - keep doing it. Perhaps that's why a student group at Ohio University launched a campaign, titled "We're a culture, not a costume," to make people think before dressing as an ethnic or racial stereotype for Halloween.

I actually knew someone in college who proposed having a "come as your favorite ethnic stereotype" party. I tried to impress upon her what a terrible idea this was - the sort of thing that might (but probably won't) be mildly amusing when discussed privately among a small group of friends, but will become a giant fiasco - and possibly a national news story - if you actually do it. In any case, common sense prevailed, and my friend did not throw a "come as your favorite ethnic stereotype party."

Meanwhile, GOOD magazine has provided a helpful primer, titled "Time, Place and Race: What Makes a Halloween Costume Offensive?"

Here's an excerpt:

"On Halloween night in 1997, Daniel James Cole wrapped a broken seatbelt around his neck, covered half his face in blood, and stuck a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament through his cheek. Princess Diana had died in a car crash two months earlier; Cole decided to celebrate the holiday by dressing as Dodi Fayed, the man who died at her side. 'Most people thought it was a fantastic, brilliant costume,' says Cole, a professor of fashion history at New York University. 'One person told me it was disgusting and I should go home.'

Halloween has always been an inherently disgusting celebration: Cole calls it 'a holiday about the dead coming out of their graves.' In recent years, though, contemporary revelers have expanded upon Halloween’s visceral thrills to serve up broader cultural offenses—dressing as terrorist victims, racist stereotypes, vegetative Terri Schiavos, and the gory recently deceased. But for every deliberately offensive Twin Towers couples costume walking the streets on October 31, there are a dozen more get-ups that occupy an ambiguous area between provocative thrill and social suicide.

What makes a Halloween costume inappropriate? An offensive costume is 'in the eye of the beholder,' Cole says. 'But certainly, there are some lines that we have to draw.' At modern Halloween events, where every reveler seeks a different thrill, that line can get awfully blurry. Children hit the streets on Halloween to horrify (ghosts, zombies) or inspire (sports stars, royalty). Adults suit up in costumes targeted at getting a laugh (giant banana, hot dog, or penis) or getting laid ('sexy' anything). Costumes can either defile or glorify the dead, depending on their execution. And a costume reception has everything to do with its time, place, and cultural context."

Click here to read more.

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