Halloween is quickly approaching, and students at Ohio University are beginning to prepare for the infamous Halloween weekend festivities. One of the most talked about aspects of this weekend is what people wear, as they spend weeks looking for the perfect costume. It can be tempting to choose a costume that is colorful and humorous, but it can be easy to cross the line from funny to offensive.
Whether or not students, or their guests, have been to OU during the Halloween season, it is easy to assume they have been subject to costumes that pose harm to certain groups of people. By taking serious issues in the world today and turning them into “clever” Halloween costumes, the lightheartedness of Halloween starts to fade.
To some, the aspects of a costume are more than a joke because certain clothing and accessories represent their culture. And, in most instances, costumes result in the appropriation of that culture.
Women tend to wear the “classic” Pocahontas costume, a prime example of a culturally-appropriating costume. Although the wearers may not be darkening or painting their faces, the use of someone’s culture as a “wear it once, throw it away” costume is damaging to their history. As a white man or woman, whose ancestors murdered and oppressed thousands of Native Americans, it can be seen as mocking to wear symbols of Native culture.
The same could be said for the guy who wears a sombrero, mustache and poncho with the occasional maraca. That type of costume focuses heavily on stereotypes of Latino people and generalizes an entire heritage, purely because someone thinks it’s funny. It is important to also realize, especially this Halloween season, how one’s costume could be racist.
“I mainly hate seeing people dressed up as blackface,” Lauren Brown, a freshman studying chemistry pre-pharmacy, said. “I could understand if you wanted to dress up as your favorite rapper, but there is no need to make your skin a different color.”
During the 19th century in minstrel shows, blackface emerged as a way of white performers to entertain their white audiences by depicting slaves as lazy and ignorant people. Not only was that hurtful to black Americans of the time, but it perpetuates a harmful portrayal of black people that still exists today.
Thomas Dartmouth Rice developed the first well-known blackface character called “Jim Crow,” according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. More than 100 years later, during the Civil Rights Era, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation based on race. “Jim Crow” began as a costume, yet blackface and stereotypes resulting from that character are still prevalent.
In January 2019, a video surfaced of a female student at the University of Oklahoma wearing black paint on her face and using racial slurs, as she held up her black, painted palms.
When walking through Uptown Costumes on Court Street, it is apparent that offensive costumes are continuously being bought and sold, even right here in Athens. An entire rack is dedicated to “peasant tops,” and a Native American headpiece with black, fake hair sits on a mannequin head on the second floor of the shop. Homogenizing certain “costumes” causes desensitization that then normalizes offensive costumes, affecting younger generations.
“I think people wear (offensive costumes) to be funny or problematic or to gain attention,” Brown said. “But if you have to ask yourself ‘Should I dress up as that?’ you probably shouldn’t do it.”
This upcoming Halloween season, it is important to hold every student who is participating accountable for the costumes they choose to wear and to recognize that advocating against offensive or racist costumes creates a safer, more welcoming environment.
Rory Ball is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Rory know by tweeting her @roryellizabeth.