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8 Racist Halloween Costumes White People Need to Stop Wearing

Updated on June 20, 2016

Cultural Appropriation 101

Definition:

"picking and choosing elements of a culture by a member of another culture without permission. This includes traditional knowledge, religious symbols, artifacts or any other unauthorized use of cultural practice or ideation." [x]

NO.
NO.

1. Geisha

Geishas are part of a subculture in Japan with strict rules and protocols. Being a geisha is a highly respected profession, so throwing on a $40 mass-produced kimono and painting your face white isn't honouring them, it's a slap in the face. Are you familiar with the process of becoming a geisha? Do you know how much effort is involved, how much time it takes, how much is sacrificed?

Check out the documentary below for a glimpse of what it's like to apprentice as a geisha. It'll definitely make you think twice about putting on a kimono and shuffling around come Halloween.


INSTEAD of a Geisha: mime; pin-up; queen.

Watch: BBC's "Geisha Girl" (2005)

Not cute.
Not cute.
This is serious.
This is serious. | Source

2. Native Princess/Chieftain

NO. This is particularly awful in Canada, where 1181 Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or missing between 1980 and 2012, and half (49%) of women murdered in Canada are Aboriginal.

Still, any white person dressing up as Native is being horrendously offensive. I don't care if you have a deep appreciation for a specific Native culture; I don't care if you've been to a reservation before and bought authentic moccasins; I don't care if you're 1/6th Cree. It's just not acceptable.


INSTEAD: European king/queen or princess/prince; Disney's Jane or Tarzan; Chuck Noland (Cast Away).

*facepalm*
*facepalm*
There is no difference between this and the modern-day costume. Both are examples of  blackface.
There is no difference between this and the modern-day costume. Both are examples of blackface. | Source

3. Any black celebrity/stereotype

No afro wigs, brown face paint, or dressing up as famous black people if you are not black. DON'T DO IT. White people dressing up as caricatures of black people has a long and racist history, called blackface and minstrelsy. White people would don blackface and travel in singing and dancing groups, the entire point of which was to mock black people. Click here to learn more about the history of blackface.

There are thousands of famous white people you could dress up as, so no, Braydon Campbell, there is absolutely no reason on earth that you need to dress up as Tupac Shakur.


INSTEAD: Literally any white celebrity, dead or alive. There are a tonne of them.

White fantasy.
White fantasy.
Reality.
Reality. | Source

4. G**sy

The word itself is often considered a slur, so you can imagine how insensitive dressing up as a Roma person is. Roma people have been systemically persecuted for hundreds of years; in World War II alone, the Germans and their allies killed 25% of all European Roma. Sadly, their persecution persists TO THIS DAY.

So don't wrap your hair in a bandana, slap on some bangles and wander around barefoot going on about how much you want to travel the world in a caravan. You are mocking the very real pain of an entire group of people, not just channelling your wanderlust.


INSTEAD: Explorer; backpacker; tourist; pirate.

No.
No.
"Sex workers wearing skeleton masks gather in Mexico city for a procession to remember their deceased colleagues." This is serious stuff.
"Sex workers wearing skeleton masks gather in Mexico city for a procession to remember their deceased colleagues." This is serious stuff. | Source

5. Sugar Skull

I've noticed that this seems to be a big trend this year for some reason. My mom almost bought one of these costumes herself without realizing it was offensive, so I understand how white people buy and wear some of the costumes on this list with good intentions.

However, Day of the Dead, or Día de Los Muertos, is an important holiday in Mexico. It is a time for reflection, prayer, and honouring the deceased. It is a spiritual and culturally-specific holiday, so sugar skulls are not just pretty make-up for every white girl to paint her face with. They mean a lot more than that.


INSTEAD: Skeleton. Just a normal skeleton. You can even put some make-up on and be a glam skeleton. Done.

Ugh.
Ugh.
Currently.
Currently.

6. Mexican anything

While we're talking about Mexico, this is your friendly reminder NOT to don a sombrero, poncho, and adhesive moustache and shriek "Areeeeeeba!" Areeeeeeba!" at the top of your lungs. Considering the current debate about "illegal immigrants" from Mexico going on in the United States, including the two million plus people who have been deported from America in the past five years, this is particularly distasteful.

Are you Mexican? No. Have you ever even been to Mexico? Probably not. Even if you have, you still look like an asshole.


INSTEAD: 70s porn star/Ron Burgundy/stereotypical 70s man (if you've already bought the moustache); Victorian or Edwardian gentleman; bard.

"Illegal" - what it's like to live undocumented in America.

No.
No.
YES.
YES. | Source

7. Egyptian anything

Pharaohs, Cleopatra costumes, Nefertiti costumes, anks, etc. is not for white people to wear. The Ancient Egyptians were basically the only black, African civilization given any exposure or respect, and even then their blackness is systemically denied (umm, hello? Egypt is in AFRICA). And yes, there is no doubt that they really were black. Like I said before, there are so many other options available to us white people.


INSTEAD: Ancient Greek, Roman, Medieval/Gothic, or European royalty.

Icky.
Icky.
Perfect.
Perfect. | Source

8. Indian anything

If I see ONE MORE white girl wearing a bindi, I'm going to scream. Only desi and Hindu people can wear bindis and tikkas. I don't care if Gwen Stefani did it; I don't care if Selena Gomez did it; I just don't care. They were wrong for reducing the bindi to a fashion accessory, and so are you.

Read more about why this is offensive here.


INSTEAD: European royalty or historical dress; faery/mermaid/fantasy character (you can stick gems on plenty of other places on your face!).

Comments

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    • Kay Sunshine profile image

      Kristen Strobak 2 years ago from Orlando, FL

      So happy to see information like this outside of tumblr. You've got me reading all of your other hubs now, you can consider me your newest fan!

    • ms_independent profile image
      Author

      Celine 2 years ago from Canada

      Thank you! Not many of my other hubs are like this one, but I'll be posting similar ones in the future! Thanks for the support

    • profile image

      Mike 2 years ago from Harrisburg Pa

      My rule is don't wear other cultures clothing. But being part Irish myself if I see someone wearing St Patty's costumes I'll probably laugh at it.

    • Karen Ray profile image

      Karen Ray 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Politically correct seems to creep on over to everything these days. I totally "get" your message regarding not wearing offensive costumes, but it seems only directed at whites. I would like to see all people enjoy their holiday in the spirit that is intended and not focus so much on seeing everything as a slight. I would like to say your article is well written, well set up and covers a lot of material on your chosen subject. I would find a poll on the subject interesting. Voting your hub as interesting.

    • ms_independent profile image
      Author

      Celine 2 years ago from Canada

      @Karen Ray

      It's not about "political correctness," it's just about respecting the wishes of cultures different from ours. The thing is everyone from the groups I've mentioned in this article has said that these costumes are disrespectful to them, so it's just as simple as respecting that. This article IS mainly aimed at white people, because it's usually white people I see wearing these costumes! However, several of these are vague and just say "don't wear this if you are not this race/ethnicity," and do not mention white people at all. Thank you for keeping an open mind and giving me a rating after reading though, I appreciate it :)

    • profile image

      Mike 2 years ago from Harrisburg Pa

      I do agree that most people that do this are white. A little understanding and respect of other cultures are a plus. Halloween store for a so called Native American costume? I won't wear that. I know enough that feathers come from real birds and there is a protocol to this. The same holds true to Asian and African cultures.

    • ms_independent profile image
      Author

      Celine 2 years ago from Canada

      @MikeyPete

      Exactly! It's just a simple matter of understanding+respecting other cultures. There are plenty of ways to appreciate another culture; dressing up in some mass-produced knock-off of their traditional garb is not one of them. It's great that you already are informed about this+avoid these costumes!

    • profile image

      Mike 2 years ago from Harrisburg Pa

      I have also learned that if I don't understand something about another's culture, ASK someone of that culture. Usually clothing or regalia from that culture has been handed down from many generations and has meaning. Often the person I ask apreciates they they were asked and the truth is out instead of assumptions, wrong comments, etc.

    • profile image

      Mike 2 years ago from Harrisburg Pa

      Also, I make my own costumes instead of spending $5o plus for a store bought costume. The economic and recycling advantages are pluses. I mainly wonder if the store bought ones are made in sweatshops. Supporting that is also racist in itself wether from my own or another culture. A child should be in school and playing with their friends, not making money for greedy people.

    • profile image

      Half white alright! 2 years ago

      LOL a white person who gets offended for being called "white." If white people are not white why do you call Africans black, Asians yellow or Natives red? I haven't seen a person change more in colour than an emotionally charged white person.

      -POC

    • profile image

      brian 2 years ago

      Black skin will make you look stronger.

    • profile image

      Beatrice 2 years ago

      I totally don't believe in wearing offensive costumes that mock a race or culture. I don't think that putting on a tasteful geisha costume is doig either of those things. I was gifted with an authentic Japanese kimono when I was a child, the kind given to geisha in training. I was fascinated with the customs and rituals. I DID study them, and I don't think it was offensive to wear the costume. I'm open to hearing other opinions, but I just disagree.

    • profile image

      Aimee 2 years ago

      I'm just curious how far this goes.

      For example, is it 'inappropriate' to wear a Japanese schoolgirl uniform for Halloween if you happen to love the style of those school uniforms or are a fan of a character that wears such a thing such as Yukiko Amagi from Persona 4 or Sakura Kasugano from Street Fighter?

      Personally, as an avid fan of Cosplay, I don't believe one's race should limit what costumes they can or can't wear..the very idea of it is just insulting and actually is rather racist itself..it would be like telling a black girl she has to be Sheva Alomar instead of Jill Valentine (both from Resident Evil).

      That said, I do agree with some of this, since some Halloween costumes I've seen were kind of racist or even very racist..but others I feel people may be overly sensitive of.

    • profile image

      Melissa 2 years ago

      I agree with a lot of this, but there are ways in which I think it goes too far. I don't see someone dressing up as Cleopatra, Barak Obama, Scheherazade, or Anne Boleyn as a problem because it's not stereotyping or disrespecting an entire culture, it's portraying a specific individual - which actually requires at least some level of cultural context and understanding. If my (white) niece wants to dress as a Disney Princess and chooses Pocahontas or Jasmine from Alladin, is that okay? If I want to dress as Pope Francis, is that okay because I was raised Catholic as a child? But then, what if I wanted to dress as a nun, or a pre-Tudor English monk? Would that be okay, or is that stereo-typing the Catholic faith? What if I wanted to dress as the Dalai Lama? How about a generic Tibetan monk?

      Is this about cultural appropriation in general, or stereotyping, or imitating a culture that has been (or is being) oppressed by Western society? I don't think that includes the ancient Egyptians, but maybe I'm wrong. But it DOES seem to apply to "witches," which is probably the most cliched costume ever, and yet actually has a HORRIBLE historical legacy. When is a costume truly offensive, and when is it just tacky and in questionable taste? And why? And to whom?

      Personally, I find the trend in women's costumes of being a "sexy" anything kind of gross. If you want to be a doctor or a cop, great. Do you need to be a SEXY doctor or a NAUGHTY cop? Is that offensive to the profession? Or sexist? Or just tacky?

      I guess my point is that this is really a grey area, and offensiveness is sometimes in the eye of the beholder and has little to do with the intent of the person (or parents of the person) in costume. I think it's valuable to hear this viewpoint, but it's not that cut and dry. And neither is culture, and neither are we. I think everyone would be better served by having a thoughtful conversation about this, rather than throwing around shame, blame, and accusations.

    • profile image

      timetobrushuponhistory 2 years ago

      Cleopatra was egyptian....

    • profile image

      MJ 2 years ago

      Okay, so I am on board with this movement and am very against black face (or any color "face") costumes, and trying to sexify or appropriate any culture. But what if say I wanted to be Beyonce for halloween and didn't do black face? I am white, but I would just wear something that resembles one of her most famous outfits. Not attempting to change my skin color in any way. I feel like that is okay because I am not being offensive. But I want to hear if there are differing opinions.

    • profile image

      Imogen 2 years ago

      Agree with all... except Geisha. It's a performing art, and although it is a part of Japanese culture, it's not a religious or spiritual practice -it's something non-Japanese people can enter into, just like white people can train to be Noh or Butoh actors. The only point made in the text is that people dressing up as Geishas haven't undergone Geisha training -and if you think that's a genuine grievance, I guess you should stop people dressing up as nurses and doctors. Plenty of places in Japan happily dress tourists up in full Geisha makeup and clothing. I think a properly executed, mostly accurate Geisha costume isn't offensive, but people wearing a short Chinese silk dressing gown and calling themselves a Geisha is. All the other examples are people dressing as a race -dressing as a Geisha isn't. That being said, I'm not Japanese, my understanding of Japanese culture is limited. I'd like to hear a Japanese person's perspective on this one, maybe I'm missing something.

    • profile image

      Linny 2 years ago

      You recommended white people to dress as ancient Greek people? Why is this different to the other cultural appropriation mentioned in this article?

    • profile image

      confused... 2 years ago

      I feel this is subjective. My indian friend, requested her caucasian friends to dress in a sari for her birthday. She even provided them. She honestly feels honored when a friend wants to borrow a sari from her for a party. Is this still considered disgraceful? Or now that I have permission from an indian, it's perfectly fine for the rest of my life?

    • profile image

      Jean 2 years ago

      You might want to talk to Egyptians about what they consider offensive. I read a post by an Egyptian telling people to STOP telling others not to dress like Cleopatra. Tourism is a boost to their economy and the poster wanted westerners to dress as Cleopatra (in a respectful manner).

    • profile image

      Melony Harper 20 months ago

      Is it okay if I dress up as Michonne from The Walking Dead? I'm white, and I love her character so I wanted to dress as her for halloween. I wasn't going to do black face or anything like that, but some of my friends have said I shouldn't dress up as her because she's black and i'm white so it's racist. I don't think it is, but I am now worried that it may come across that way.

    • profile image

      Harriffan Conshertini 11 months ago

      Cleopatra was Macedonian-Greek, for anyone who didn't know.

      (P.S. in that previous comment, I meant to say, 'article', not 'afticle'.

    • Laurinzo Scott profile image

      Live To Write 9 months ago from Phoenix, Az.

      Amen to this ... Bravo.... Celine !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Rebecca 9 months ago

      Sooo can a black guy wear a kilt for Halloween?

    • profile image

      Amy L. 8 months ago

      Hello. I read this article and agree with SOME of it. So say you are white and grew up in a town that celebrated Day Of The Dead often. Technically, that means it would be part of your culture, so that would be okay to dress up as. It would also be okay if you were invited to celebrate that holiday by someone from that culture. The only other time I can think of it being okay is if you are dressing up in, say, a sugar skull for Halloween to honor the Mexican holiday, not just because it "looks cool". This applies to almost anything else.

    • profile image

      Random person 5 months ago

      Is dressing up as a cannibal racists?

    • profile image

      NoName 3 months ago

      1.Don't speak for other cultures, you're "white", so you can't stand up for other cultures, if you don't even know how they feel about it.

      2.Stop saying White, Black, and Asian.Stop grouping people together by skin color.You can be white and be born in japan, skin colors don't define nationality, racism is taught, not innate.

      3.Romani , are nomads, people that move all over Europe and the Americas, moving place to place without a real home, its not a race it's a way of life. Anyone can be a nomad especially what you define as 'white", authentic Romani clothing, were one of the many things they traveled land and seas to sell a piece of their cultures to us and you want to say wearing it would be racist.

      4.Native Indians, what gives you the right to say i can't dress up as a Native Indian(Hate being called Americain), just because we decided to marry other cultures.If you know anything about Cherokee culture you would know the only way we, and other tribes survived plagues, wars ect, was interracial marriage.My great grandmother, moon dance walked the trail of tears at 4yrs old, and you want to strip that from my heritage.If i want to wear bright colors and long story telling patterns i will, you can't take that away from me just because i'm mixed.

      5.What actually is racist, Telling someone they can't appreciate, wear and celebrate other cultures because of their color of their skin, shorting or slutting up religious related costumes, nun sand sugar skulls.Over the top not even close to looking authentic costumes , like mexican outfits, pimps, etc. Or Costumes that bring up bad times , slutifying native american outfits because many women were raped by settlers.Geisha costumes aren't necessary racist at it is depressing because they forced into female prostitution in the past, even though their are some today, and Blackface is offensive because it was used only for racist purposes.

      But other then that halloween is about dressing up as someone different for an harvest festival, you shouldn't be restrict to dress up as someone you look up to like gandhi, because you're mexican, or lincoln because you're "African American (*seriously americans can dress up as americans*), or as peace loving Bob Marley because you're white. In the end we all come from the same place (whatever place you're religion or nonreligion believes).

    • profile image

      Flaminia 2 months ago

      Regardless of general opinion about appropriation, I must give you props for offering alternatives. Few articles know the importance of that. People feel disoriented if they don't know what else they can do. I liked some little tidbits, like the "glam skeleton" part and the "you can stick gems to other spots on your faces". It showed that there's a genuine helpfulness.

    • profile image

      Spencer 3 weeks ago

      Wasn't Cleopatra Greek rather than Egyptian royalty?

    • profile image

      u-r-ethnocentric 2 weeks ago

      "Cleopatra costumes.... is not for white people to wear."

      --RE: Cleopatra VII Philopator was a Macedonian woman. Egypt was conquered and ruled by white people. Everyone in academia has known this and anyone who takes a post-high school history class learns this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra

      Besides her recorded family tree and the obvious historical fact that Egypt was invaded and ruled by this Macedonian family, coins from the time, which are the most accurate source, depict her as a Caucasian woman with a large nose and slightly unattractive appearance.

      "The Ancient Egyptians were basically the only black, African civilization given any exposure or respect, and even then their blackness is systemically denied (umm, hello? Egypt is in AFRICA). And yes, there is no doubt that they really were black."

      --RE: The first part is a correct and respectable statement. Sub-Saharan Africans have recently been denied respectful historical coverage due to discrimination. What you get wrong is that Egypt was not made up of one group of people. Civilizations have been mixing and mingling for thousands of years and Ancient Egypt had a diverse population. Would you accept, thousands of years from now, someone claiming today's Canada was white?

      "Are you familiar with the process of becoming a geisha? Do you know how much effort is involved, how much time it takes, how much is sacrificed?"

      --RE: Are you familiar with Japan? Have you been there? Modern day geisha exist as a tribute to the past. Foreigners visiting Japan are encouraged to try classic Japanese customs as tourist experiences and some of the most popular are renting kimonos or geisha outfits and walking the streets of traditional areas. This is a quintessential activity encouraged in Japan. It is analogous to Japanese businessmen dressing up like cowboys for historical photos in Vegas. They are not disrespecting the American cowboy's immense skill, difficult 100+ hour work week and dangerous lifestyle. They are paying tribute to it.

      This Article: Sure, wearing blackface or misrepresenting Native American women is offensive. But this article is not about that. Along with being highly inaccurate, it seems to me that this writer's article is calling for an act of cultural separation. I live in an extremely ethnically diverse city and kids of every kind wear Halloween costumes as tribute to their heroes. I saw Arab Superman, Japanese Harley Quinn, an African evil leprechaun, and a German samurai. Unilaterally banning "white" people from wearing anything but that of European royalty or likewise is disgustingly ethnocentric and nationalist.

      Discrimination: Separation

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