Halloween Hijinks or Hate

Sophia Lewis, Staff Writer

Halloween is a time of scares, candy, and of course, costumes. Costumes are essential to the holiday with children and adults alike dressing up as superheroes, animals, zombies, and celebrities. What was your costume this year? Though this scary holiday has passed, Thanksgiving is around the corner and it’s important that we look at some of the scary stereotypes that affect both and how people choose to entertain or dress.


A memo was sent out to students attending the University of Oklahoma last year. The memo reminded students that their Halloween costumes need to be “designed respectfully.” The University of Wisconsin reminded students that they are able to wear whatever costume they want, but “racist, crude, and culturally insensitive costumes say a lot about the person wearing that costume.”  Ohio University also told students to “use good judgement when choosing a costume.”


On the University of New Hampshire’s campus, students encountered posters in their halls saying, “You wear the costume for one night, I wear the stigma for life.” Schools around the country are spreading messages like these before Halloween, this is because some people decide to dress as a different race or culture. These costumes are offensive to the groups they belong to, but just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.


The student newspaper for BYU, The Daily Universe, reported last year that a BYU student wore blackface as a part of his football player costume for a Halloween contest at the BYU AdLab. This student later apologized for his actions. 


In 2015, a picture posted on the Courier-Journal shows a Halloween staff party at the University of Louisville that featured president and staff in ponchos, sombreros, fake mustaches, and maracas.


In 2013, Color Lines reported on two men dressed as George Zimmerman [A neighborhood watch coordinator] and Trayvon Martin [The unarmed black 17 year old Zimmerman shot and killed]. Complete with blackface and a blood-stained hoodie. This picture was posted on Facebook, with comments praising the costume for its comedic value.


Mr. Jensen, History and Ethnic studies teacher at Copper Hills, said there’s a reason that people choose to make other cultures their costume of choice. “Ignorance, but those that do it with mal intent, they do it for explicit, hateful purposes,” Jensen said, “I would say the majority is ignorance.”


Not all forms of racism are explicit or intentional, it is possible to do or say a racist thing without meaning to be racist or having ill intent.


If these weren’t scary enough for you, the idea that this problem happens every single year is terrifying. These costumes are dehumanizing, stereotypical, harmful, and racist, but others argue that they should be able to dress as a different race or culture because they are celebrating said cultures or races. 


Consider this: Halloween costumes are typically scary, funny, or sexualized. What message is being conveyed to the culture or race when people dress as said race or culture for a holiday where costumes are scary, funny, or sexualized?

Someone’s culture, race, or identity is not a costume. Even if people desire to celebrate the culture or not, Halloween is not the appropriate time or place to do so. Some will argue that everyone is simply too sensitive and that those offended by these costumes are offended for no reason.


Hot take: Perhaps people are offended by the costume because it is in fact…Offensive.


Mr. Jensen said, “If there is anything that makes someone else feel uncomfortable, listen to them… If someone [says that the costume] makes them uncomfortable, we should be respectful to each other and say ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do that’ rather than getting offended.”


It is easy for those dressing in offensive costumes to dismiss the problem and label it as acceptable. Especially since the history is not their own.


The night before Halloween, Grizzly Growl staff scanned the aisles of Zurchers, a costume/party store. In one section of the store, questionable costumes were on display. Costumes with sombreros, panchos, tacos, and fake mustaches were seen on shelves while Voodoo/Witch Doctor costumes were displayed with a fake bone accessory intended to look as if it were going through the nose, as seen and practiced in many indigenous cultures. 


Next to the witch doctor costumes were a section of Native American costumes. [pictured] The costumes were for men, women, and children. Feather headdresses and headbands, fake arrows through the head, fringe clothing and names like ‘Dream Catcher Cutie’, ‘Festival Spirit’, and ‘Rising Sun Princess’. The women’s costumes featured short fringed dresses and low necklines. What is happening here is simple. Sexualization.


The sexualization of these costumes is a problem because according to a 2018 study from the National Congress of American Indian Policy Research Center, indigenous women are 1.7 times more likely than white women to experience violence. More than half of indigenous women have had experiences with sexual violence, and indigenous women face murder rates more than 10 times the national average in specific counties. A 2018 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute states, murder is the third leading cause of death for indigenous women.


Throughout history, indigenous women and girls were the targets of sexual violence from colonizers. In the book “Sexuality in World History,” Christopher Columbus captured many Caribe women and took them as slaves. He gave one to his friend, Michele de Cuneo. Cuneo went on to write about his torture and the sexual violence he inflicted on the young woman.


As for blackface, people such as Megyn Kelly faced backlash after saying, “Because you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”


The truth is, blackface was never okay, and whiteface doesn’t exist. Whiteface does not have the oppressive history or oppressive systems to change the image of white people as a whole, unlike blackface. Blackface has a lasting influence on black or dark skinned people and how white people perceive them.


 The roots of blackface are in minstrel shows.


Minstrel shows depicted white actors with black grease paint on their faces, overdrawing their lips, acting lazy and hypersexual as well as ignorant and prone to stealing. Blackface and minstrel shows go hand in hand with other popular black stereotypes like “Jezebel,” “Mammy,” “Sambo,” etc.


These stereotypes are harmful to black people as seen in movies like Birth of a Nation. These examples in media promoted the idea that black people were savages to be tamed or civilized, promoting and glorifying violence towards black people. Even today, black men and women are harassed by law enforcement, denied jobs, and these stereotypes are not only harmful to black men and women, but can implement a harmful mindset to non-black audiences. 


The portrayal of black people in the media and in the prejudices of others, can leave black men and women feeling hopeless, and feel that these stereotypes are an inevitable fate. None of these actions have historically been done to white people. There is no oppressive history to whiteface. There is no system instilling stereotypes that directly disenfranchise or oppress white people. 


Halloween should be a fun and comfortable time for everyone who celebrates. Finding a costume that is not offensive is really easy to do. When we look forward for the spooky season again next year, let’s be sweet to one another on Halloween, grizzlies. Skip the racism.