Happy Halloween everyone! Or Not-So-Happy Halloween?

October 31, 2011


Yes, Halloween is finally here, and it is that time of the year where everyone dresses up. One may see a lot of pumpkins, vampires, doctors etc., but one may also see something a little more disturbing. This past weekend I have come across students dressed as other cultures, races, religious groups and much more. Some were even mocking native tongue, religious practices, and clothing preferences. This is not okay.

This topic was brought up last week when I received an email from Native American Student Association ( N.A.S.A) about a Michigan sorority portraying the Native American culture in a very negative manner. They considered themselves “sexy tribal Indian princesses.” As a group, we decided to send out an email letting them know how we did not support their annual costumes. They were very apologetic and understanding. They even offered to help us raise awareness about offensive stereotypes. Websites like wholesalehalloweencostumes.com are promoting this type of behavior with inappropriate costume designs.

Prior to receiving this email, I must admit that I was ignorant to the situation. Just last year, during Halloween, I took a picture with five people whom I did not know only due to the fact that they were dressed as Native Americans. I told them, “Hey I’m Native! let’s take a picture!” Now, when I look back, I am embarrassed by my actions.

So, I decided to do a little research. I came across a campaign to stop racism in society.

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

It’s happening all around us, the problem didn’t start with one sorority. We have been trying to get rid of racism everyday,  yet we have students dressing up and ‘supporting’ racism on our very own campus. It was very eye opening to go out on Saturday Night, look around, and see many offensive costumes. I even went up to those dressed as Native Americans and asked them what they were suppose to be. Surprisingly enough, I received many embarrassed responses when I informed them that I was Native.

What allows one culture  to dress up and mock another culture as if they are more important? Does Halloween give us all a free pass to do so?


About emilyloz

Sophomore in the College of Engineering. Studying Civil Engineering

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17 Comments on “Happy Halloween everyone! Or Not-So-Happy Halloween?”

  1. elyssashea Says:

    While I may personally disagree with the mocking of another culture, one could use political theory to argue that Halloween enables us to do so… or not.

    You could say that the wearing of a Halloween costume is a form of expression. John Stuart Mill’s harm principle stipulates that the only time power can be exercised over an individual’s expression is if it will prevent the harm of another individual. Therefore, in application to the case of Halloween, I think that Mill would argue that you need to present evidence that a specific individual was harmed by a costume mocking his/her culture. If one particular individual were to come forward and claim they felt persecuted by another individual’s costume, then I think that in Mill’s eyes, he/she would have provocation to shut down the individual wearing the costume. However, it does not seem possible with this rhetoric to apply the harm principle to banning an entire population from wearing costumes because of the protection of a group (rather than particular individuals.)

    On the other hand, one might say that Mill is inapplicable to this topic all together, because like in the situation of the BART shutdown, Mill doesn’t really apply to actions. The wearing of a Halloween costume isn’t so much an example of freedom of speech, in which a person might be expressing a poignant view which will contribute to open forum. I don’t think Mill would like his hope for a “marketplace of ideas” to be applied to the use of derogatory costumes, which don’t necessary express any thought-out views from those who wear them.

  2. kristinamacek Says:

    You make a very interesting point in your post. I had similar thoughts when I was out this weekend and saw many people dressed up as Islamic terrorists. This mocked an entire religion, race, and culture. Guys that were dressed up in beards and traditional Muslim clothing with fake machine guns swinging at their sides probably thought they weren’t doing anything wrong. However, they were. They were not only making fun of an entire group of people based on a few individuals’ actions, but they were also perpetuating the negative stereotypes that these individuals face everyday. While it may be funny to you, it probably isn’t to someone who has to deal with the stereotype throughout their daily lives and deal with it negative ramifications. Halloween should be a fun experience for everyone that goes out to celebrate that and we should keep that in mind while selecting our costumes.

  3. ianbaker2041 Says:

    I think that you’re taking the situation a little too far. Diversity and toleration are outstanding things; I’m in favor of both, but this is a situation where making a fuss just makes the problem worse, not better.

    I’ll offer an example. A number of years ago, Snickers aired a superbowl commercial featuring two men working in an auto garage. Both open opposite ends of the candy bar and begin eating it until they are kissing, at which point one yells “QUICK!! DO SOMETHING MANLY!!” The other man rips some chest hair out, and the commercial ends. I saw this as harmless, hilarious advertising, and I went and bought a Snickers to signify the brilliance that I saw in the commercial.

    If you didn’t watch that superbowl, you won’t see the commercial again. Within hours, gay and lesbian rights groups were suing and complaining, all over a TV commercial. While I see their point, I think that their actions just make people resentful of activism and don’t really change anyone’s opinions. If gay rights groups had just let it go and accepted that Snickers wasn’t out to make a joke of them, they could have gone on and people wouldn’t have thought any differently about the gay rights movement. Because these people chose to pitch a fit, they just made others say “wow. Those people are annoying. Why can’t they leave us alone if they want us to leave them alone?” I’m all for gay rights and freedoms; I’m just saying that whining about commercials isn’t the best way to do it and can actually be counterproductive.

    The same goes for Halloween costumes. It’s a holiday designed for everyone to dress up. If anything, I’d be honored if I was Native American and people chose to dress up that way, not offended. Even if they are wearing the costumes in a somewhat offensive way (as it seems they were), just let it go. It’s Halloween. People are going to wear stupid costumes and go to parties; that’s pretty much what it’s about. There is a time and place to work on fixing stereotypes; frat parties are definitely not the time or place. I am NOT condoning ridiculous or offensive Halloween costumes but 1) this is not the right way to go about ending stereotypes and 2) people do technically have a right to dress as they please. If that’s what they want to do, live and let live. If they’re not trying to offend you and their outfits don’t go WAY over the line, let them be.

    Again, for fear that someone will take this all out of context, I am not against any group. I’m all for removing stereotypes and treating everyone with equality and respect. I just think that complaining about Halloween costumes and other silly things like commercials serves only to waste the time of the advocate at the expense of the individual. No one wins in situations like this. Work through the legal system and garner popular support for your cause; that will get people to support long-lasting change, but let everyone enjoy Halloween as they see fit. I don’t like the very short outfits sported by some students, but I can let it go because that’s their choice-their freedom to do as they please and pursue their own happiness. Does that really infringe upon my happiness? No.

  4. Danielle Studenberg Says:

    Your experience is very interesting, but I think you may have judged the Native American costumes a little too harshly. Halloween is the one time of year where no one should criticize us for what we choose to wear; this holiday is meant for foolishness and fulfilling our fantasies. What other opportunity are you going to have to dress up as Spiderman, Snooki, or perhaps a giant banana?

    It’s actually not very shocking to me that students decided to impersonate another culture on Halloween; I’ve seen girls and boys alike create outfits of a similar nature. For example, someone in my sorority this year actually dressed up as our House Mom, complete with her trademark floor-length robe and reading glasses. Everyone praised this outfit of course, even the one being impersonated. With these costumes we need to remember the saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Our House Mom knew the outfit was ridiculous, but she took into account that we would never purposely want to hurt her feelings and that it was just too good of a costume opportunity to pass up. I think that you should take this saying into account as well since it’s unlikely the sorority girls aimed to disturb your culture.

    I’m not saying Halloween is a day where you can offend people without any consequences, but lets keep it from becoming apart of political issues.

  5. lukeythekid Says:

    I could quote Mill and talk about freedom of speech and expression, but I’m just going to say: you can’t be so sensitive. At the end of the day, people are just dressing up because it’s fun. Girls dress up as everything from a sexy milk maid to a group of sexy Kiss band members. Unless you still dress in traditional Native American fashion and you could be mistaken for one of them, there is no reason to fret. Our society is in the middle of a transition from intense political correctness to an attitude of apathy towards race, and right now it is important to not be overly upset over things like this.
    Like many students at the University of Michigan, I am Jewish. If I saw someone wearing a costume that looked like a stereotypical rabbi, I would not make such a fuss about it. Practically nobody is actually seriously anti-Semitic, just like the girls in that sorority were not making a political statement about Native Americans. They could have just as easily gone the opposite way and been sexy cowgirls (which, as a guy I highly recommend) and nobody would have thought twice about it. Everybody has friends of many different races and we all occasionally make a crack about it, but obsession about political correctness needs to end. Obviously any sort of racism is terrible, but overreaction to innocent gestures is almost as bad.

  6. goldman13 Says:

    I don’t think i could disagree with this post more. Although often overlooked, Halloween has extremely religious and cultural undertones. But in the United States, Halloween revolves around candy, costumes, entertainment and partying. In the spirit of partying, i think that people need to understand the difference between having fun and being “discriminatory.”

    Costumes are costumes, not jabs or attacks on other “cultures, races, religious groups” etc etc. In the spirit of the holiday, people exercise their creativity and take advantage of an opportunity to step outside their comfort zones. To say that students are “supporting racism” by dressing up and having fun is an absurd accusation. A line needs to be drawn between having a good time and purposely trying to offend others. Now, i don’t think anyone should be offended by people’s costumes, but i’m reasonable enough to understand that some people will be. But, just because you may be offended does not justify your very serious accusation of bigotry.

    I’m not Native American, but i think i can still understand what you may be feeling because I’m Jewish. However, whenever i see people dressed up as orthodox Jews (there are always a few), i find it humorous and, by all means, “Halloween appropriate.” I have dressed up as a Native American before and i am still completely aware of the abuse and discrimination that they endured/still endure. Don’t make the connection between costumes and ignorance, because by doing so, you are only begin ignorant yourself.

  7. srubins Says:

    I am going to start off by saying that this article is rather eye-opening. Never have I seen Halloween portrayed in such a light. However, I think this article has gone a little overboard. It is fair to say that some of these costumes can be thought of as offensive, but that is clearly no ones’ intention. By pretending to be a “sexy tribal Indian princesses,” they are not attempting to say anything about the Native American culture. People in this world have become so obsessed with being politically correct that we have begun to look past the true meaning of things.

    I agree with IanBaker2041 and his analogy to the Snicker’s commercial concerning the topic of homosexuality. I too remember watching that commercial and thinking that commercial was a genius idea. Funny enough, we actually had a debate about the commercial. My uncle said he thought this commercial could be viewed as offensive. However, the rest of my family fully disagreed with my uncle. This commercial was made to sell a candy bar and in no way did this major corporation intend to attack a group of individuals. The fact of the matter is that it is unmanly for two guys to kiss, but they didn’t say there was anything wrong with it.

    Halloween is meant to be fun. People dress up as cowboys, nurses, football players, and plenty of other things. The point of this is not to make fun of these groups, but rather to just have fun. I don’t see all of the nurses of America making a big deal about girls dressing up as sexy nurses. I haven’t heard NFL players complain that they are being portrayed in a negative light because girls wear extra small jerseys on Halloween. Football players and nurses are just as much a group of people as Native Americans are. So why should Native Americans care if girls dress up as sexy Native Americans. They mean no harm, it is all done with good intentions.

  8. antuck Says:

    In response to Lukeythekid’s comments:

    As for whether or not N.A.S.A. is being oversensitive, all I have to say is that I don’t think it’s for non-Natives to decide. It’s easy for us to say, as Lukeythekid did, “You can’t be so sensitive.” But I think that’s just rude. If someone is offended because you are dressing up as a stereotype of their culture, then I think it follows that you shouldn’t dress up that way. Lukey, you say you would not be offended if someone dressed as a rabbi, but I think that’s a bad analogy, because rabbis aren’t crude stereotypes. There are certainly ways that a non-Jewish person could dress in accordance with Jewish stereotypes that you certainly *would* take offense to. And even if you didn’t, you would never blame a Jewish person who did take genuine offense to genuinely offensive stereotyping.

    I’m not saying that N.A.S.A. wasn’t being oversensitive. I *am* saying that I don’t think it’s for you to decide.

    In response to Danielle’s comment: “Halloween is the one time of year where no one should criticize us for what we choose to wear.”
    Um… no. Definitely not. False. Some costumes are offensive, even if you don’t think dressing as a Native American is an example. There are plenty of potential costumes that are horribly wrong (use your imagination), and if someone dressed in such a way, I would say that, if anything, you are obligated *to* criticize them, not obligated *not* to.

    Lastly, before anyone tries to say it’s not offensive, read the second-to-last paragraph of the original post. “I even went up to those dressed as Native Americans and asked them what they were suppose to be. Surprisingly enough, I received many embarrassed responses when I informed them that I was Native.” If they were embarrassed, they were obviously aware it was an offensive stereotype.

    • goldman13 Says:

      Whether or not the people dressed up as Native Americans responded with “embarrassment” is a subjective view. The author clearly views these costumes as offensive, and would be influenced by her own beliefs when perceiving other people’s opinions of their own costumes.

  9. Daniel Pienkowski Says:

    After reading several articles about this issue of “inappropriate” Halloween costumes and talking to some of my friends about it over the weekend, it seems that there is an unfortunate misunderstanding in which several people misconstrue a good natured, fun holiday for an event that cultivates racism and spread cultural stereotypes. All individuals should be treated with equal respect and dignity no matter what their race or background, and I fully understand how this can be a very delicate issue for many, but such overly sensitive complaints hold no real merit. This issue has to be taken into context; Halloween is a time for everyone to have fun and dress up to pretend to be other people, and I can almost guarantee than no one dresses up in a cultural costume to try to disrespect or pervert that given culture or its people. These costumes are in no way a personal attack on any race or individual. Race and cultural identity is a very personal issue and I respect that. I’m a first generation American (my whole family was born and raised in Poland) so in a sense I can relate to feeling “singled-out” at times. Many comedians or comedy shows (e.g. South Park) that I’ve watched at times poke fun at my culture or religious beliefs. Yet I’m still proud of my background and I understand that this is a surface level joke and not a blatant attack on me, and I find good humor in most of it. But if anyone is so sensitive or overly protective about their nationality or who they are that they wish to knit pick every little issue in which race comes up, then good-natured events like Halloween are rendered utterly pointless. One of my best friends from back home comes from a very traditional, conservative Mexican family is very proud and confident of his culture heritage. When I told him that here at Michigan the traditional Mexican outfit (sombrero, serape, and all) was especially popular, he laughed it off, viewing it as good natured fun rather than a disrespectful gesture, an attitude that I truly admired.
    We all have freedom of expression, and people need to be able to poke fun at themselves more often instead of taking everything so seriously. This over-exaggerated political correctness is a slippery slope that will soon lead to an almost complete eradication of freedom of expression. In agreement with srubins comment, should firefighters, cattle ranchers, nurses, police officers, referees (and the list goes on) also take personal offense on Halloween? Obviously, this cultural Halloween campaign carries such implications. Really, there are bigger race issues to worry about than harmless Halloween costumes. If people chose to dress up in any cultural costume, I think it shows their interest in these cultures rather than their desire to ridicule or put anyone down due to race.

  10. Greg Kraus Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the above comment, I think that people of all races need to realize that the entire purpose of Halloween is so that people can step outside of their own cultural and racial boundaries, and embrace other’s without taking criticism for it. Although I am not supporting racism in any way, I think that anyone should have the right to “dress up” as anything that they want for Halloween, because that is exactly what we are all doing, “dressing up.” All good Halloween costumes need to be taken with a grain of salt. Isn’t that what makes Halloween fun? Personally, if I saw someone of another race dressed as someone of my race, I would take absolutely no offense to it. I think that this type of conversation is one that ruins great things like Halloween. How often do young adults like us get the chance to dress up in ridiculous costumes and parade around like children? The answer is once a year, on Halloween. Lets not ruin the last bit of adolescent fun that we can still justifiably partake in by analyzing it from every angle. Remember when you found out that Santa wasn’t real, well that day sucked a lot in my young life. Let’s not ruin Halloween for ourselves by turning it into a racist issue. Most importantly, I would be willing to bet that very few people intentionally dress racist on Halloween. Nobody actually thinks about offending others when they put on a scandalous nurse costume, or an indian princess costume. The entire nature of Halloween allows people to dress up in foreign ways. I personally do not believe that Halloween racism should be taken seriously, because in reality, we are all just “dressing up.”

  11. aclieb Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that sometimes people dress up and their halloween costumes are offensive to other cultures or religions. However, this is a very grey issue. For example, if a little girl were to dress up as Pocahontas, I don’t think people would find that offensive (maybe I’m mistaken and if I am I apologize). People would say she’s adorable and obviously the little girl nor her parents have any malicious intent when she’s wearing that costume. Yet, when a teenager throws some beads around her neck, a few feathers in her fair, some face paint, and a short skirt, we view that as offensive. Personally, I agree that is offensive as well as other costumes that try to mimic other cultures and religions. I think when a girl or boy no longer wants to wear a costume for the sake of trick-or-treating and instead wears a costume to attract the attention of the opposite sex is when it can be viewed as offensive (assuming of course it’s a costume that mimics/mocks another culture or religion or what have you). Not to mention dressing up like a Native American or a Rabbi or what else is trite. I’m sick of seeing the same boring, unoriginal costumes every year, I digress. Even if the person doesn’t believe dressing one way mind offend a group of people, I still think that person should choose a different costume. There’s not point in wearing a costume that makes people uncomfortable or offends people.

  12. JustinMandeltort Says:

    I agree that costumes like these should be frowned upon, but in no way are these people racists or purposely trying to express stereotypes. Halloween is about dressing up as something that you are not, so I don’t personally see an issue with the costumes that these girls were wearing. I’m sure the girls who dressed up in that manner were not trying to poke fun at your culture in any way, they were most likely trying to just come up with a costume that they thought people would like. It’s clear these girls meant no harm, which was clear since they were very apologetic and whatnot. I do agree though that in general the word and awareness need to comes out about certain stereotypes and racist actions. These types of things happen all the time and is never brought to public attention. I feel like there should be no battle picked by either side in this situation, there are bigger racist and cultural offensiveness happening on a broader scale today; these are the issues that need to be talked about and changed.

  13. sbsmoler92692 Says:

    Only until I read this blog post did I realize the seriousness of the issues pertaining racial discrimination and costumes around the time of Halloween. I have been all too familiar growing up in a culture that has been discriminated and racially persecuted for centuries as I identify with the Jewish faith. Therefore, because this issue touches close to my heart, I believe that mimicking other cultures and ethnicities should not be tolerated.
    Last year in my Communications 101 course, we had watched a video detailing a Native American’s personal struggle as she tried to advocate the suppressed rights of her Native American tribe as it was mocked throughout rituals that the University of Illinois had exploited. The University of Illinois school mascot was the “Fighting Illini” which was a Native American Indian Chief that would prance around at sporting events and make mockery of “Native American rituals.” For many years the Native American Indian populations nearby protested, and finally gained enough support to help change the school’s mascot as it was not only offensive, but also racially discriminated against the Native American Indian population. Making mockery and nothingness of their sacrificial routines, outfit, and disrespect, the “Fighting Illini” had to go.
    While some sororities might find it “sexy” or “cute” to be an “Indian Princess” for Halloween, they are blind sighted to see and acknowledge how dressing up as another culture is morally wrong, and especially in today’s democratic and liberal society, it is simply disturbing. I would never imagine dressing up as a Jew with its cultural stereotypes that are attached. This can also be extended in terms of Halloween costumes, to people dressing up as Nuns and Priests to make a mockery of their lifestyles and religion. I do also agree that while our government runs a free society where we live in a democracy that entitles us to our own rights of freedom of speech and expression, we also have to protect our identity. One identity, culture, or religion is not to be deemed any more or less better than another, especially in our democratic state. While I can suggest Halloween costumes become censored to not offend, mock, or depict poor cultural stereotypes of different ethnicities, it is not our job as a democratic society to infringe limitations such as those on the citizens. I can only hope that people do understand from a moral and ethical standpoint that mimicking other religions, by dressing up as them, as an intentional joke or not, is wrong.
    As my generation has grown up in an era where we have taught the morals of a democratic society, to not partake in racism, to not discriminate, and give everyone an equal chance and shot, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, or nationality, there is still going to be an omnipresent stigmatism and stereotype attached to the various religions that combine to create our melting pot of a country. The best we can do in this situation and similar scenarios, is to just raise awareness for the racial discrimination and hope that people will follow in others lead and slowly start to stop finding pleasure or humor by negatively portraying others races and cultures.

    You can find the article I reference with the University of Illinois mascot problem, here at: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/university-illinois/2010-10-22/group-seeks-new-ui-mascot-will-rally-against-chief.html

  14. albosco Says:

    I think that a lot of great opinions have been stated above and I agree with most of them, but there are also some things that I also disagree with. Society is becoming increasingly more aware and more outspoken about offensive actions, terms, or images towards minority groups. I agree that it is important to be respectful of other races, ethnicities and religions, but I think that getting offended by someone’s Halloween costume is a little irrational. Unless someone’s costume clearly mocks another race, ethnicity, or religion, they are usually trying to have harmless fun dressing up for the holiday. I think that racism is extremely intolerable and that people should be careful about their Halloween costumes, but the holiday is simply about having fun, not viciously mocking other races.

    If every group was offended by the stereotypes and costumes portrayed on Halloween, then people would only be able to dress up as pumpkins, bats, ghosts, animals, or any other creature that was not capable of expressing their opinion in society. A post above mentions that they are offended because there were girls dressed as “sexy tribal Indian princesses”. I understand that your culture needs to be respected and dressing in a derogatory manner is not respectful, but they were not purposely mocking it, just trying to have fun on the holiday. If every group portrayed in Halloween costumes was offended, there would be no costumes. For example, there are multiple girls that dress up as “sexy nurse” or “sexy police officers” on Halloween, but I have never heard a group of actual nurses or police officers saying that they were offended that their careers were being “disrespected”.

  15. maxmoray Says:

    I find your argument very compelling, for I too have seen many students dressed as other cultures, races, religious groups and much more. However, on a few points I have to disagree with your stated claim. Like Danielle Studenberg and others have commented, Halloween is a once a year tradition, that takes on the blend of men, woman and children wearing their scariest, funniest, most clever or provocative costumes. Numerous people love putting a twist on costumes that make fun of occupations such as policeman and nurses, all by abiding to the Halloween code. How does this differ any differently from the idea of wearing a costume of a different culture or religion?
    To pick out one specific example as a racist or hurtful act, I feel would be a bit of a reach. It is obvious when students dress as another race they are attempting to make fun of that religion through generic interpretations of their social norms. One shouldn’t take these acts hurtfully, because the costume wearer is most likely attempting to receive a mutual laugh.
    With that being said, I do agree with you on some points over this debate. Too many times do we see people wearing costumes of a different religion or race, attempting to recreate their lifestyles in a childish and misleading way. I once saw a group of young adults wearing fake tatoos, mustaches and baggy, almost dirty clothes. I asked them what they were, and they responded “Cholos.” For me this slang word describing Mexican Americans is one that we could go without. Instead of dressing up as a different religion in order to depict the religions unique styles, they instead took an attack on the groups social norms. This I was not to impressed with. I guess then new question I pose, conveys the point, at what point do costumes of a different religion or race go from being clever and funny, to mean and cruel? This is the fine line that must be addressed during every Halloween.

  16. ksoisson Says:

    I’m taking an intro to Arab American studies class right now and we discussed this topic a few days ago because there are some people who actually dress up as terrorists. In my opinion, there is no problem in dressing up as someone from a different culture unless you are representing that culture in a negative way. Obviously dressing up as an Arab terrorist is contributing to a negative stereotype, so I think that is pretty racist to take a costume that far. I’m not really sure if I would consider just dressing up as perhaps an Arabian Sheik to be racist. This is harder for me though to answer because I am white and I don’t know what might be going through the minds of other cultures. I think it can be okay to dress up in these costumes to a certain degree if you understand what you are doing and there isn’t harm intended.

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