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"We're a culture, not a costume": student campaign against racial Halloween costumes

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Photos courtesy of Students Teaching Against Racism in Society (STARS) and Ohio University

If you were planning to go to a Halloween party in a geisha costume, you might want to reconsider. An internet campaign by the Ohio-based Students Teaching Against Racism in Society (STARS) is discouraging people from dressing up as racial stereotypes, and their campaign has recently gone viral.

The campaign launched just before Halloween to get people to think before they choose their costume. The provocative posters, which were first discovered on Tumblr, took off on the social media sites around the country, grabbing the national spotlight. As of Monday evening, they had been shared more than 50,000 times online, Ohio University student Sarah Williams told Colorlines.com. Since then, the group has been all over media, including Huffington Post.

In one poster-campaign, an Asian girl is holding up a picture of a Halloween enthusiast dressed up as Geisha. In another poster, a man is showing a picture of another man dressed in an "Arab" costume (known as dishdasha), a head-dress and -- get this -- a suicide bomber's vest

The campaign's organizers have been "overwhelmed" by the response to the posters and have "had to seek out the assistance of a lawyer in protecting their work," according to Clutch Mag Online.

In an article in The Daily Wildcat, writer Kristina Bui applauded the campaign, expressing her own thoughts about racially charged Halloween costumes.

"It’s hard to explain exactly what is so wrong about being a geisha or a sheik for Halloween. It’s unsettling," she wrote.  "It’s a feeling I’ve always struggled to articulate — a discomfort that sort of just sits in the place between your heart and your stomach, quietly nagging."

Unfortunately, parodies of the campaign have been quickly appearing as well, such as this one on Know Your Meme.

Read more here and here.

(28) Comments

Danielle October 25th 2011 | 3:15 PM

Racism is wrong - and I can't pretend it doesn't exist. But lets be reasonable here...

The first photo is a girl dressed as Lil Wayne, a successful American musician... Who happens to be African American - (like a majority of successful musicians in the US). She is not dressed as Kunta Kinte from Roots. Let's relax.

The other costume seems to be a parody of an Osama Bin Laden type of character. Yes, this costume is guilty of being funny 5 years ago and not at all clever - is it not racist. It is only racist if we assume all Arabs are extremists.

Most people I know - with blood running through their veins happen to know better.

juechi October 25th 2011 | 4:16 PM

Hi Danielle, 

Thanks for your input. I agree that the first picture is probably a woman portraying Lil' Wayne -- a celebrity who happens to be black -- but that photo of the terrorist looks nothing like Bin Laden. It's fairly clear that it's meant to look like a generic "Arab terrorist" and would obviously make Arab people uncomfortable at the implications (the geisha costume is benign by comparison). The unfortunate thing is that many people don't know better (as demonstrated by U.S. Sikh men who were severely beaten due to a vague resemblance to Muslim terrorists), which is why the students are upset. 

Shannon 2011 October 25th 2011 | 6:18 PM

Anyone can have a problem with any costume

What about men those dress up as women characters? Is that
sexist?

Or people that dress up like fat people? Is that too
judgemental?

OR women that want to dress like sultry characters? Is that
a problem with women being allowed act too freely?

Or any religious figures? I guess Ghost/Sprits, gods or goddess, Greeks, witches, Egyptian kings, mummy’s, devils, angles are out of the questions. It is a sin in some religions to portray “mythic creatures”? Therefore all demons, fairies, vampires, werewolves, monsters or elves are also out.

Or political figures? is that a whole world of controversy
on its own?

How about dressing like a KD box? Oh that’s way too commercial or industry driven which only encourages the exploitation of the developing world. (Rolling my eyes)

Costumes don’t make a person who they are. If you are a racist, you are one before you put a costume on, not after. Halloween costumes are fictional or are play up symbolic character. A CHARACTER is not a race. People are becoming
too sensitive and are sucking the life out of a night of dress up.

Adrienne October 25th 2011 | 9:21 PM

Danielle and Shannon: Until you ARE a person of color and have lived our lives, don't tell us what we can and cannot be offended by. Nice try, but don't compare someone in blackface to demon/fairy/vampire costumes. We're not mythological creatures. We're human beings and the fact you're telling us to "relax" in regards to an issue that takes minorites a step backwards is further proof of White privilage and inequality. We are not going to stay silent because you're afraid of us cramping the status quo. 

bubby October 25th 2011 | 9:21 PM

If I saw anyone dressed up in lederhosen and a beer stein  I wouldn't give a flying fack, just sayin.

JonM October 25th 2011 | 10:22 PM
The costumes are a rapper (probably Lil' Wayne as commented already), a geisha, and a terrorist. They are not: a black person, an Asian, a Muslim. If all you think of your own culture are these stereotypes then go ahead and be offended. Otherwise recognize that these are specific costumes not cultural stereotypes. You don't see someone dressed up as Little Sambo do you? I can promise you that the people in the costumes aren't racist. I doubt they think: All black people are rappers. All Asians are geishas. All Muslims are terrorists. Although I'll admit that the girl using makeup to look Black is pretty stupid and mildly racist.
Ayane October 25th 2011 | 10:22 PM
Adrienne wrote:

Danielle and Shannon: Until you ARE a person of color and have lived our lives, don't tell us what we can and cannot be offended by. Nice try, but don't compare someone in blackface to demon/fairy/vampire costumes. We're not mythological creatures. We're human beings and the fact you're telling us to "relax" in regards to an issue that takes minorites a step backwards is further proof of White privilage and inequality. We are not going to stay silent because you're afraid of us cramping the status quo. 

 

Why are you assuming that Danielle and Shannon are white? Is it simply because you view their opinion as racist? Because when you are white, you are automatically racist? It seems like you're projecting your own racism onto them. 

David October 25th 2011 | 11:23 PM

As of 2011 there is NEVER an appropriate time or holiday for American whites, in particular, to dress up in black face. Never! Whether it happens to be a black celebrity is IRRELEVANT. Given the history of this country it boggles me how some people think dressing up in black face in the US for any occasion is okay. I'm black and in my 27 years of life I have yet to come across ANY other black person that thinks white people or any other ethnicity dressing up in black face is, "just a costume" and "no big deal".

Give me a break. Whites in America spent decades using black face as a way to entertain themselves at the expense of degrading and demeaning black people. There's just a history there that can't be escaped. Perhaps if they hadn't this wouldn't be an issue. And I hate to say it but nine out of ten times the people saying "it's just all in good fun" are white. Shocker!

If you think "it's no big deal" here's a little experiment for you. Dress up in black face and go to a predominantly black neighborhood. What do you think the reception will be? 

Danielle and Shannon are living in LALA land, US. How you can even compare black face to men dressing as women is beyond me.  Dear Shannon, there's no history of men dressing up as women in order to demean or belittle women so that comparison is specious at best. And dearest Danielle with all my being I know you are clearly NOT black. So who are you to tell black people how they should feel about something? You don't have that right. Stick to what you know best...IGNORANCE!

 

David October 25th 2011 | 11:23 PM
Ayane wrote:

Adrienne wrote:

Danielle and Shannon: Until you ARE a person of color and have lived our lives, don't tell us what we can and cannot be offended by. Nice try, but don't compare someone in blackface to demon/fairy/vampire costumes. We're not mythological creatures. We're human beings and the fact you're telling us to "relax" in regards to an issue that takes minorites a step backwards is further proof of White privilage and inequality. We are not going to stay silent because you're afraid of us cramping the status quo. 

 

Why are you assuming that Danielle and Shannon are white? Is it simply because you view their opinion as racist? Because when you are white, you are automatically racist? It seems like you're projecting your own racism onto them. 

No. Probably because a black person who identifies with the black diaspora would never say that. Period. Not all whites, but the kind of whites who like to pretend we are living in a post-racial utopia, where color and race never were and are presently no longer an issue, and who are utterly and completely incapable of understanding or empathizing with the minority experience, would. 

I know, I know. I should brush that "chip" off my shoulder. *Rolling eyes*.

David Duke October 25th 2011 | 11:23 PM

I was not going to be in costume until I read this.

Now I WILL go out in blackface.

In the US of A, we have freedoms and one of those freedoms is freedom to expression/speech.

I will exercise mine this halloween by going in blackface!

Adrienne October 25th 2011 | 11:23 PM

Yes, I did assume the above commenters were White which I will give you is rightfully disputable.  But, WHERE in my post did I actually call either of them racist?  I pointed out the fallacies in their logic, but I never once said they were racist, so don't put words in my mouth with statements like, "Because when you are white, you are automatically racist..?."

If anything the above commenters likely believe themselves to be quite tolerant and THAT is what I find scary, because if I believed they were truly racist I wouldn't even bother trying to argue. Whether they are White are not, the commenters above seem to believe that by dismissing the feelings of those these images affect that they are bridging the gap to equality when they are failing to realize that their views are doing the exact opposite and THAT is the point I am trying to get accross. 

Anton October 26th 2011 | 12:00 AM
Adrienne wrote:

Danielle and Shannon: Until you ARE a person of color and have lived our lives, don't tell us what we can and cannot be offended by. Nice try, but don't compare someone in blackface to demon/fairy/vampire costumes. We're not mythological creatures. We're human beings and the fact you're telling us to "relax" in regards to an issue that takes minorites a step backwards is further proof of White privilage and inequality. We are not going to stay silent because you're afraid of us cramping the status quo. 

Your comment shows exactly what this campaign encourages: paranoia and fear of other cultures. You are so paranoid that you just accused two strangers of trying to bring black people down and automatically labeled them as being white: this is racism.

We are very lucky to live in a multi-cultural country where people from different origins, religious beliefs can live in peace and harmony. This harmony can only exist if we acknowledge not only the fact that we are all equal, but also that we all have differences and that we appreciate those differences.

False-flagging a kid as a racist because he dressed like Ali Baba or Michael Jordan is wrong for our society as it puts boundaries to its openness, encourages the fear of other cultures and surprisingly, propagandizes racism.

That being said, comparing a girl that dresses as Lil Wayne to blackface racial comedy which was popular mostly in the United States in the 19th – early 20th century is inappropriate and in my opinion, shows a lack of education on the subject.     

kurt October 26th 2011 | 3:03 AM

i think you mean fortunately parodies have been popping up.

kurt October 26th 2011 | 3:03 AM
David wrote:

Ayane wrote:

Adrienne wrote:

Danielle and Shannon: Until you ARE a person of color and have lived our lives, don't tell us what we can and cannot be offended by. Nice try, but don't compare someone in blackface to demon/fairy/vampire costumes. We're not mythological creatures. We're human beings and the fact you're telling us to "relax" in regards to an issue that takes minorites a step backwards is further proof of White privilage and inequality. We are not going to stay silent because you're afraid of us cramping the status quo. 

 

Why are you assuming that Danielle and Shannon are white? Is it simply because you view their opinion as racist? Because when you are white, you are automatically racist? It seems like you're projecting your own racism onto them. 

No. Probably because a black person who identifies with the black diaspora would never say that. Period. Not all whites, but the kind of whites who like to pretend we are living in a post-racial utopia, where color and race never were and are presently no longer an issue, and who are utterly and completely incapable of understanding or empathizing with the minority experience, would. 

I know, I know. I should brush that "chip" off my shoulder. *Rolling eyes*.

yes they would

Jose Garcia October 26th 2011 | 4:04 AM

Im a latino and I never once tought that dressing as a paisano was racist. This is just PC crap from students with nothing else to do. From this campaing we can also imply that a black cant dress as a Knight because that would be racist against the whites.

mountiemaplesyrup October 26th 2011 | 11:11 AM

If a black person dressed up as lady gaga, would that be racist? That girl is dressed as lil wayne! If a Japanese person dressed up as a mountie or a cowboy, would that be offensive? This is just absolutely ridiculous! (the terrorist costume is the only one that is offensive, but without the bombs, it wouldn't be!) The fun police need to take a rest.

Mary Thirb October 26th 2011 | 11:11 AM

Let's not forget the campaign is done by students. That means teenagers, or young adults, who are not yet hardened by life. I believe it's not anybody's place to decide what someone should or shouldn't be offended by (e.g. my mother hates to hear any swearing, while I couldn't care less).

I think the campaigners need to take heart, because this campaign will not get them anywhere. Halloween is a time when people suspend good taste and common sense. Empathy has no place in Halloween.

If some idiot want to wear Black face on Martin Luther King day it definitely has not the same impact/purpose as some other idiot who wants to dress up as an Arab terrorist on Halloween.

As for trying to explain what is degrading about black face, don't even try. They would have to walk a mile in your shoes. It will never happen. Please, do let them paint their face black, thinking they're oh-so clever; and know what kind of person you're dealing with the rest of the year.

Greek Jonny October 26th 2011 | 12:12 PM

As a decendent of Greek immigrants, I break down and cry anytime I see someone wearing a toga.

Oh no, wait a minute, I'm CHOOSING to be outraged at something that is otherwise a throwaway gag.

Lots of suffering in this world kids, if the worst part of your life is that someone wears a stupid costume then you should thank God your life is that good.

Greek Jonny October 26th 2011 | 12:12 PM

White privilege? That sounds awesome, where can I get some? I'm white and have had to endure:

Daily beatings in a ‘diverse’ high school’

Expulsion for fighting back

The state foster care system

Temporary homelessness, and

Drug addiction

 I’m 100% satisfied with my life which I have turned around; but if I knew about this White Privilege I hear so much about, I wouldn’t have had to go through ANY of this, right?

 Racist.

Matthew89 October 27th 2011 | 12:00 AM
David wrote:

Dear Shannon, there's no history of men dressing up as women in order to demean or belittle women so that comparison is specious at best.

Actually, for most of western culture, women in theatre were always portrayed by men in costume, and often with outfits designed to be demeaning.

Really though, stop whining about it. It's a fucking costume. Do Nordic people complain about viking costumes? Do English people complain about Robin Hood costumes? Do french people complain about mime costumes? Do German/Austrian people complain about those alps costumes? Do guys complain when women dress up as male historical figures? Do women dress up when men dress in drag?

No, they take it all in good fun. Most people of minority groups do as well. But there are some people who are ashamed of their culture, ashamed of their associations with historically marginalised groups, and they get whiny and encourage others of their group to get outraged. You want to know how you stop being a marginilised group? You stop reminding people of how 'marginilised' you feel and act like everyone else.

I agree, there were once systematic barriers in place preventing certain groups from getting ahead. And still, some of these groups are underrepresented in many professions. But the people who are from these groups who end up in top posistions do not get there by reminding everyone how marginilised they feel, but by acting the same as everyone else.

I have a friend who is asian, and sure, when I first met him he was 'my asian friend' but over time I totally forgot he was asian. This wasn't achieved by him reminding me that certain behaviors were offensive, or by talking about asian stuff all the time. The same is true for the gay people I know.

So black people, hispanic people, asian people, native people, gay people, fat people, short people and other unnamed minorities: If you want to be treated the same as everyone else, stop asking to be treated differently than everyone else. 

 

AJ Griff October 27th 2011 | 5:05 AM

Is it possible to focus on real discrimination issues and stop trying to make up new ones. The next argument from 'enlightened' people will be that the Wizard of Oz and witch costumes need to be banned as it is upsetting to Wiccans. I find it amusing that only young white people find these things racist. Why do you not focus your efforts on real discriminitory issues? As an example, tenants(renters) in Alberta are considered non citizens. Are you aware that in Alberta a landlord can demand proof of whom you voted for and can evict you based on your choice? Political belief is not a protected right in Alberta. In Alberta an apartment is considered a private residence. However the right only extends to the owner of the building. So a landlord can install hidden "nanny cams" in your suite without telling you. Perfectly legal. There is no punishment for entering your tenants suite whenever you want, except a stearnly worded letter from the Province. Enter whenever the young college girl is in the shower? Enter twenty times in a month? You get twenty letters. Discrimination is an important issue. Lets not look for it in the superfluous.

Crystal October 27th 2011 | 1:13 PM
If you are trying to ban the costumes cause they are insensitive to cultures last I check terrorism and ghetto was not a culture. Also if you find the costumes insensitive the what do you think of the sketch comedy shows like So Random on Disney, Saturday Night Live, or Mad Tv the do the same thing on a weekly basis that everyone is doing for one night. So come on people I applaud you for standing up against racism but stick with the real issues like employment, housing, and racial violence.
Ink October 27th 2011 | 5:17 PM

...then yes, would these people who are white dress up as non-white cultures and ethinities and feel ok speaking in front of a group of the ethnicity they are dressing up as? How about dressing up and going to a predominantly black district as a white person dressed as Lil' Wayne? Or how about a white person dressed up as Pocohontas and walking around a reserve? Can you seriously feel ok dressing as another ethnicity and say, go to a a children's school where the students are of that ethnicity?

If you all think it is ok, go ahead. Do so, tell us about your experiences and please, oh please, include pictures showing how much of a racist you are.  

David Duke October 28th 2011 | 5:17 PM

OK, so is Dwyane Wade, a black man dressed as Justin Timberlake, a white man racist?

 

http://www.thepostgame.com/blog/list/201110/athlete-halloween-costume-awards

Rookrow October 30th 2011 | 11:11 AM

People know that not all asians were geisha's, any more than all europeans were knights. So is it insulting for someone to dress as a medieval knight? A peasant? How about a samurai? If you were dressing as a generic "asian person" or "black guy" that would be insulting. Geisha kimono and obi are beautiful, historic costumes.

whoawhoawhoa October 30th 2011 | 8:20 PM

There are two prominetn forms of racisms: 

One says you are different, that people are from different 'races' and so for one group of "races" to make fun of another "race" is wrong. Racism can be defined as seeing human beings, or homo sapiens, as different races. Do you see the immediate irony of "racism" here? To say someone is racist is to say that they are a different race from the person they are targeting in a "racist" way. If one truly believes that we are not from different races, then one is not going to say "he can't say those things because he is making fun of a different race". Why not? Because you will genuinely believe that you are all of the same race, and to make a joke about another person who appears different from yourself is making fun of basically yourself, since you are both of the same race anyways. I can make fun of people who like dungeons and dragons because, even though I don't play D&D myself, I do play video games, and the two aren't that different; I'm a part nerd, it's funny, but human and I accept it. I'm really making fun of a part of myself.

The racism of exclusion says you can't do something because of your ethnic background or skin color; to say that I can't dress up as a VooDoo Shaman because I'm white is saying I can't do something because of the color of my skin. Who is the racist? Who's seeing us as different cultures? Who is seeing a division in people in terms of their skin colors and saying we are not equals, that for me to dress up as a shaman, is belittling of another person or culture? Racism is and always will be in the eye of the beholder. People make their choice to see something as racist or not.

 

 

We have stupidity in all cultures, we have class in all cultures, we have absurdity in all cultures (why do men wear ties? What bride in the last 20 years has worn white appropriately? Why is it custom to celebrate men in body armour crashing into each other as hard as they can, knowing they are doing their bodies permanent damage, as they chase around a little brown ball made of dead animal?) All of these represent absurdity and culturally specific identity that we can, and should, laugh at once a year at minimum. Be a geisha, be a Mountie, be a real housewife of Atlanta, be a Jersey shore git, I don't care; we all are unique, and we are all equally valid and ridiculous at the same time. To say we had better not celebrate the genuine difference and silliness of humanity in all its forms is to take ourselves, and our "race" entirely too seriously, and can lead to much more dire consequences than not taking ourselves not seriously enough (remember Hitler? I am hopeful I will see at least one of him this year). And that is the point of Halloween- celebrate and laugh at the one thing that we all have to face but don't want to accept- death- and have a laugh at our lives, our own stupidity, absurdity, and invalidity, along the way. If you can't laugh at others in ludicrous caricature costumes that we all know do not represent all of a culture, how can you laugh at yourself, and how can you accept yourself, especially if you are the target of that costume? To partner "racism" in the form of silly costumes with a serious intolerance is a leap in logic and may be a sign of deeper insecurity and ignorance. We're bigger than that as a culture, as a society, and yes, as a race. And we all need to accept that; push comes to shove, we're all equal, and all equal targets for stupid costumes.

 

 

 

BambooBanga December 11th 2011 | 8:20 PM

Hi, I'm a obviously a bit late to this debate but:

Unlike a lot of people on here I 100% agree with the campaign, I live in a small rural town and have seen too many drunk white men dressed as generic 'Arabs' and, this being a small town, can safely say this is quite representative of their attitude to race relations as a whole. And statistics alone in terms of income and opportunities afforded to different ethnic groups clearly illustrate the reality of white privilege; anecdotal evidence is not going to disprove this reality - though clearly no-one is denying the other equally serious inequalities that need to be addressed.

But I was wondering, is it acceptable to dress as a specific person or character of a different ethnicity without 'blacking up' or emphasising their ethnicity? My dilemma is this: I'm considering dressing as Lil' Wayne for NYE (I'm a white woman) - obviously I wouldn't dream of blacking up but my partner thought it could still be construed as racist. I'm a genuine Lil' Wayne fan - he's not my favourite rapper but he's the only one I like who has a distinctive style (I don't think people would notice if I dressed up as Kendrick Lamar!). It would involve wearing some kind of dreadlock hairpiece as well, which does slightly conjure up images of those horrible 'Rasta hats' with attached dreadlocks. I could always dress as someone else, but a large proportion of the celebrities and cultural icons I admire and am familiar with are also African-American, so it seems a bit artificial to limit my choice on the basis of ethnicity. What do you guys think?

Kristen October 29th 2012 | 6:06 AM

They keep using that word... racist....
I do not think it means what they think it means.

racist - a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others

Please someone explain to me how wearing a geisha costume for halloween immplies that your race is supirior to others? Or that you have a prejudice against Asian people?

I find the trailer park trash costumes and 'Canadian lumberjack' costumes just as halarious as the Mexiacn banditos, sometimes moreso. I think everyone needs to learn to laugh a bit more. No one is dressing up like that to make the statement "Oh hey im making fun of your culture because mine is supiorior" There is a difference between parody and racisim. Halloween costumes are parody, so please stop using the word 'racist' as its just being used as a buzzword in this situation to spark strong emotions in people..