Halloween is just around the corner and that means it’s time for us all to decide on costumes. Whether it’s rummaging through thrift stores to find the perfect boots to complete your Wonder Woman look, or standing in the endless lines at Party City, hunting down your perfect look can be loads of fun. That said, it’s important for us to keep in mind that some costumes can be hurtful to others. Mean-spirited costumes are often out there in spades, especially this time of year. So how does one react to an offensive Halloween costume, anyway? Sadly, it's something you need to think about because, well, chances are there are going to be a few too many inappropriate ensembles.
Well, first thing’s first. Before you react, you’ll want to check yourself and make sure that your costume isn't offensive, too. After all, no one likes a hypocrite. Honestly, finding or making a non-offensive costume actually isn’t difficult at all, and there are plenty of options out there ranging from a Ghostbuster (the old or new class) to zombie to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Once you’ve secured appropriate costumes for yourself (and for your kids), you might want to educate yourself a bit more on what costumes actually are and aren’t offensive. Granted, this can mean different things to different people, but there tends to be a general consensus that, among other things, dressing up as a racial minority isn’t OK, and appropriating another culture isn't, you know, "cool."
Prepare yourself to see costumes of all kinds this year, and when you see one that pushes the envelop, feel free to react in any of the following manners:
Sigh And Ignore It (Because You Can’t Always Afford To Speak Up)
Alright, I know this is a bad move overall, but hear me out. Yes, if you see someone in yellowface, you should certainly call them out on it. However, if it’s a costume that’s on the edge of being offensive, and you’re having an especially difficult day (or commenting on the costume can get you fired and you’re not in a socio-economic position to lose your job), it’s OK to stay quiet.
Some folks will tell you you’re being a bad ally if you don’t always speak up, but there truly is only so much you can do. If you’re a white, cisgender male and the CEO of you're own company, you can probably afford to speak up. If you’re a struggling, queer, single mother of color, you might have to sigh and move forward with your day (and that is OK).
Frown Disapprovingly But Say Nothing
This goes just a step above the first strategy. Here you’re at least showing that you don’t approve of the costume, but you’re not getting into the specifics. Because, again, we don’t all have the luxury or the privilege to risk any consequences of being outspoken. It’s the same reason why some folks can argue with a cop and not get shot, and others can do everything they’re told and still end up on the wrong side of the gun. Life is complicated.
Confront The Costume Owner And Let Them Know They're Being Offensive...
Depending on your comfort level, you might be able to go up to the person and inform them that their outfit is offensive. Maybe it’s a friend or a co-worker or family member and, as such, they're easier to approach. Or maybe you’re feeling bold and want to confront someone walking down the street. It’s honestly up to you.
...And If They Don’t Understand, Explain Why It’s Offensive
Now, merely telling them it’s offensive might not do anything. In fact, they might be completely confused as to why it’s offensive (and hell, some might be willing to hear more). If that’s the case, explain briefly why this particular costume is offensive (there can be multiple reasons, for sure).
Bring Up “Cultural Appropriation” (If It’s Relevant)
Cultural appropriation involves taking cultural dress, customs, or other portions of the culture of a minority group by a majority group member. If the costume features, say, a Native American headdress or an Indian sari worn by a white person, it’s cultural appropriation. It’s the reason Disney was in hot water about their Maui costume, and it’s not cool.
Explain What “Triggers” Are (If It’s Relevant)
Triggering costumes are a bit different. They don’t necessarily have to do with cultural appropriation, but rather are insensitive toward difficulties others have faced. For example, this petition from two years ago asked stores to get rid of a Halloween costume prop of an arm with cuts on it, to be worn by someone making light of those who have self-harmed. Costumes making light of mental health issues, eating disorders, suicide, rape or sexual assault, and infant death and miscarriage could also be seen as triggering.
Ask Why The Wearer Chose This Costume
When confronting someone with an offensive costume, you always want to find out what was going through their mind when they picked it out. Why did they think it was funny? Was their intention to harm others or did they just not realize how damaging their outfit was?
Try To Persuade Them Not To Wear It
If it’s not yet Halloween, you can always attempt to ask the person not to wear the costume. Explain again why the costume is hurtful to others, and nudge them toward choosing a different costume. Let them know how much you and other would appreciate it if they changed their mind.
Suggest Ways They Could Alter The Costume To Make It Inoffensive (If Possible)
If it’s simply a matter of removing or altering part of the costume, perhaps you can help them in recreating the outfit so it’s no longer offensive. If it’s an offensive shirt, maybe they can wear a different shirt. Maybe they’ll be able to come up with a totally new DIY idea made from portions of the original costume.
Suggest Alternative Costumes, In General
If it’s just too late to remake the costume, maybe you can suggest a different last-minute costume as a suitable alternative. Hell, if you’ve got time, you might even volunteer to hit the shops with them. It’s never too late to get a better costume for the spookiest night of the year!
Use It As A Teachable Moment For Your Kids Or Others Around You
If the person doesn’t want to change their costume, there’s not much more you can do about it. You can, however, use it as a teachable moment for your kid so they understand why blackface is wrong, or why doing Dia De Los Muertos makeup should be reserved for that specific holiday, and not Halloween.