Costume controversy

As Halloween approaches, a campaign on campus is targeting culturally insensitive costumes. Each poster shows a student holding an image of a Halloween costume that is racially or culturally offensive.

For example, one poster depicts a Muslim student holding an image of a terrorist costume while another shows an Asian student holding a photo of a woman dressed as a Geisha.

The campaign — which carries the taglines “We’re a culture not a costume” and “This is not who I am, and this is not okay” — was started at Ohio University by a group called Student Teaching Against Racism. The AMS Social Issues Commission (SIC) brought the posters to Queen’s.

Social Issues Commissioner T.K. Pritchard said the poster program was adopted after many community members brought it to his attention. Pritchard said it was a proactive attempt to combat potentially offensive costumes this Halloween.

Reducing someone’s entire cultural identity into a caricature is offensive. There’s no reason to hurt others while dressing up, and trying to have fun.

Simple naïveté is part of the problem, and the campaign will be useful in helping to engender thoughtful consideration when choosing a Halloween costume.

While many people who wear costumes to parody a stereotype don’t have malicious intentions, the implications of these costumes are often overlooked. The nature of Halloween allows for characterization. Dressing as a character is acceptable, but portraying an ethnicity or culture isn’t.

Some argue that those who are offended by a Halloween costume need to build a thicker skin, but this point of view is flawed. It isn’t the responsibility of observers to try to ignore the way an offensive costume makes them feel.

The campaign has inherent problems because it’s difficult to draw a hard and fast line around what is offensive. For example, do police officers have the right to be offended on Halloween because their profession is often sexualized in costumes?

The best course of action is for each individual dressing up to stop and think before stepping into a costume. Consider what affect a costume could have.

The SIC’s mandate includes educating and creating discussion among the student body on social issues. Hopefully this poster campaign will make people think twice and force students to be creative on Halloween and not offensive.

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