Student group launches campaign targeting racist Halloween costumes

Why didn’t I think of this idea when I was in college?

Students Teaching Against Racism (STARS) is launching a campaign to raise awareness of the plethora of Halloween costumes designed to mock stereotypes of minorities and people of color. From the linked article above:

STARS, a student organization at Ohio University, created a series of posters just in time for Halloween. 

In one, a Latino man holds up a picture of a white guy wearing a handlebar mustache, sombrero and poncho. There’s a stuffed donkey attached to the front, so that he looks like he’s riding it. Similar posters feature an Asian woman, a black woman, an Arab man and a Native American man. Across the top of each poster, the text says, 

“We’re a culture, not a costume.” This is not who I am, and this is not okay.”

Finally. The “we’re not a costume” campaign may be timed for Halloween, but it’s a reaction to an attitude that’s accepted every day as This is not who I am, and this is not okay.”

It’s hard to explain exactly what is so wrong about being a geisha or a sheik for Halloween. It’s unsettling. 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. It’s a sense of being wronged without knowing exactly what was done to you.

People who think racism is dead think so because they don’t see active discrimination. They think, “But minorities are allowed to do everything I’m allowed to do, so where’s the harm?” STARS’ poster campaign calls attention to another problem: Minorities are often made into caricatures.

And that’s why Ohio University’s Students Teaching About Racism in Society exists. STARS aims to “educate and facilitate discussion about racism and to promote racial harmony and to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings.”

STARS exists because racism is only playing dead. It manifests itself not in slurs and exclusion, but in stupid jokes and really inaccurate costumes. As a minority, you’re a character, not a person. People dress up as you on Halloween. On TV, you’re the token black guy, easily replaced by some other black guy after one season.

Racism is so much stealthier now. It doesn’t announce itself, and it’s complicated.

I must say I’m glad to see these students take a stand and address an issue that’s all too rampant on college campuses.

The problem with Halloween costumes posing as appropriating minorities and persons of color is that it completely erases the actual person they are portraying and is a classic example of how whiteness believes it has the utmost authority to appropriate and accurately portray persons of color.

Seeing a Halloween costume portraying what a person believes to be a black woman communicates to me that whiteness not only devalues me as a person, but also believes that each and every black woman is replaceable and exchangeable, thus denying our individuality. It communicates to black women that our bodies, characteristics and personalities are hereby declared fair game to be commodified and marketed as a fun Halloween costume to wear during a night on the town.

The popularity and widespread availability of these racially offensive Halloween costumes pretty much signals the continued objectification whiteness and its practitioners employs when it comes to interacting with persons of color in society. It reflects the whiteness’ oppression of persons of color and holds a mirror up to the ongoing negotiations POCs have to make in a racist society that consistently reminds us of our otherness.