How not to dress like an offensive idiot on Halloween

Are you struggling to come up with a Halloween costume? Want to avoid being the fifteenth Pennywise to turn up at the party? Toying with the idea of going with something a bit funny and left-field? Do you keep keeping hitting a brick wall and thinking “jeez, I’m just stumped. I’m a white lady but the only thing I can think of to dress as is a sexy Native American woman. If only there was literally any other costume in the whole entire world that I could wear” before shrugging and clicking “buy now” on Amazon?

Well, luckily we have some handy life hacks for those of you who are just, darn it, so stumped and are once again inching towards dressing as something horrendously racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic or transphobic on October 31. All of this can be avoided if you spend, er, more than 15 seconds thinking about your outfit. 

We get it. Halloween is all about turning the everyday on its head: being dead when you’re not, wearing your underwear in public and calling it a costume even though it’s really cold. But when that costume lampoons other cultures or deeply distressing events – like, you know, genocide – you risk simply reinforcing damaging power structures and upsetting people. And that’s not very spooky now, is it?

Of course, this is all just friendly advice. This isn’t about silencing anyone or freedom of speech. By all means, black up and pretend to be Obama – just don’t expect not to be punched in the face or have any friends, or potentially even a job, by the end of the night. Good luck! 

Don’t black up

Right, so let’s start with the basics. White people gave up the right to paint their skin the colour of other people’s for fun when they created an economic system where darker skinned people were enslaved and exploited, their resources pillaged and their looks emulated as a form of entertainment.

That makes blacking up racist. Remember kids, a person of colour pretending to be white might be prejudiced but it’s not racist.

And, obviously, changing your skin colour to one that humans don’t naturally have is fine. As in be Avatar not Rachel Dolezal

Don’t use someone else’s culture as a costume

We can all agree that saris and Native American headdresses are really very beautiful. Good, OK. But that doesn’t mean wearing one as a costume is acceptable. When a group like Native Americans have clung onto their culture in the face of genocide, and continue to be attacked, it’s tone-deaf not to realise how damaging it is just to adopt that clothing for a night because you think it’s cool or pretty.  

You get double moron points when it references damaging racial stereotypes. If you plan on wearing a poncho with a sombrero and a moustache to a party, then prepare to look and be treated like an idiot. 

Don’t dress up as Anne Frank 

Well, at least we agree that murdering people en masse is terrifying and disgusting. But trivialising the memory of someone who was brutally killed as a child is perhaps not the brightest idea hence why this costume was recently pulled from online stores.

Don’t dress up as a ‘lunatic’ or ‘escaped mental patient’

There is still huge stigma around mental illness, especially the idea that sufferers are more of a threat to others than themselves. Donning a straight jacket or wielding an axe and telling people you’ve “run away from the loony bin” is not going to win you friends.

Don’t dress as Caitlyn Jenner or any other trans person

This suggests that being trans is funny. And as attacks on LGBT people are rising, it’s easy to see why attacking a community that is struggling to survive is horrendously cruel and offensive. 

So, what can I go as?

Theresa May’s P45. The little girl who stomped through her dad’s BBC interview. That woman trapped in a window on a Tinder date. These are all current and, we think at least, hilarious options this year. 

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