8 Racist Halloween Costumes White People Need to Stop Wearing
A Lesson in Cultural Appropriation
Many people are unfamiliar with the exact meaning of cultural appropriation, yet it happens all the time. So what is it exactly? Cultural appropriation is:
' . . . 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.'
Why is this definition important? Every Halloween, someone makes the uninformed decision to wear a costume that is deeply insensitive, offensive or outright racist. The troubling part is, some of these costumes are so mainstream that consumers aren't even aware of how problematic they can be. I understand how white people buy and wear some of the costumes on this list with good intentions, but ignorance does not make it okay.
Let's dive into a lesson on offensive costume attire and some alternative costume ideas. Here are a few costumes that are absolutely inappropriate:
8 Racist Halloween Costumes
- Native Princess/Chieftess
- Any Black Celebrity/Stereotype
- Sugar Skull
- Anything Mexican/Stereotype
- Egyptian Anything
- Indian Anything
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.
Ask yourself the following:
- Are you familiar with the process of becoming a geisha?
- Do you know how much effort is involved?
- Do you know how much time it takes and how much is sacrificed to become a geisha?
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.
Alternative Costume Idea: Pin-up, queen or vampiress.
BBC's 'Geisha Girl' Documentary
2. Native Princess/Chieftess
This costume idea is particularly awful. Half (49%) of women murdered in Canada are aboriginal, and 1181 indigenous women and girls were murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012.
Any white person dressing up as an indigenous person is being horrendously offensive. It doesn't matter if you have a deep appreciation for a specific aspect of indigenous culture; it doesn't matter if you've been to a reservation before and bought authentic moccasins; it doesn't matter if you're 1/6th Cree. It's just not acceptable.
Alternative Costume Idea: European king/queen, princess/prince or a pirate.
'Safety for Our Sisters': Ending Violence Against Indigenous Women
3. Any Black Celebrity/Stereotype
So what does this mean? No afro wigs, brown or black face paint or dressing up as famous black people if you are not black. Simply don't do it. White people dressing up as caricatures of black people is part of a long and racist history; it's called blackface and minstrelsy.
Historically, white people would don blackface and travel in singing and dancing groups—the entire point of which was to mock black people. Still not familiar? You should take the time to learn more about the painful history of blackface.
Alternative Costume Idea: Literally any white celebrity, dead or alive. There are thousands of famous white people you could dress up as. So no, even if you're a fan, there is absolutely no reason on Earth that you need to dress up as Tupac Shakur.
The History of Blackface in America
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, they are persecuted to this day.
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.
Alternative Costume Idea: Explorer, backpacker or tourist.
'A People Uncounted': The Untold Story of the Roma
5. Sugar Skull
This costume concept seems to be a big trend recently. In fact, my mom almost bought one of these costumes herself without realizing it was offensive. 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 makeup for every white girl to paint her face with. They mean a lot more than that.
Alternative Costume Idea: Skeleton . . . just a normal skeleton. You can even put some makeup on and be a glam skeleton. Done.
Mexico: The Tradition of Día de Muertos
6. Anything Mexican/Stereotype
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, the border issues, deportations and the mass shootings of 2019 targeting Mexican nationals and Latin Americans, this costume 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.
Alternative Costume Idea: '70s porn star, Ron Burgundy, stereotypical '70s man (if you already bought the moustache), Victorian or Edwardian gentleman or bard.
The Hidden Life of an Undocumented US Immigrant
7. Egyptian Anything
Pharaohs, Nefertiti costumes, anks, etc. . . . these are not for white people to wear. The Ancient Egyptians were basically the only African civilization given any exposure or respect, and even then they've been systemically denied. Like I said before, there are so many other options available to white people.
Alternative Costume Idea: Medieval/Gothic attire or European royalty.
Egypt's Cultural Heritage in Danger
8. Indian Anything
One more white girl wearing a bindi will make me 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 both wrong for reducing the bindi to a fashion accessory, and so are you. Take the time to read about why appropriating the bindi is deeply offensive.
Appropriate Costume Idea: European royalty or historical dress; faery/mermaid/fantasy character (you can stick gems on plenty of other places on your face!).
The Bindi: The Red Dot
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.