On Halloween a few years back, a train ride killed my vibe before I could even get to the party.
I had decided to go as Roman Zolanski, a former alter ego of Nicki Minaj, and was outfitted in a bushy blond wig and a hooded velvet sorcerer's cape. (Another friend I was meeting up with that night was dressed as "Super Bass" Nicki.) After taking a seat on the el, I looked toward a rowdy group of fellow twentysomethings that had congregated just a few feet away. There I saw two young white women wearing spinoffs of the "Sexy Indian Woman" costume sold in most pop-up Halloween shops—featuring feathered headdresses, fringe boot cuffs, and a tan skirt and top.
I found it difficult to conceal my disappointment at their tacky, culturally appropriated outfits, and looked on with a furrowed brow and a curled lip. Moments before the group arrived at their destination, one of them caught my expression. She looked at me blankly before walking off the train.
As much as I wish this were an isolated incident, I'm far from the only person who has felt palpable disgust with racist or culturally disrespectful costumes on Halloween.
To be clear, this isn't about so-called political correctness. Rather, it's about understanding how some costume choices promote harmful stereotypes, belittle the traditions of marginalized ethnic groups, or send the message that it's fine to accessorize with other cultures "for fun" when the originators face everyday discrimination for just being themselves.
For example, I took a cursory look at social media following the final presidential debate, and Donald Trump's racist remarks about "bad hombres" entering the country from the Mexican border inspired some Halloween costume ideas. One post even joked about how it’d be easy to pull off the "bad hombre" look since a "Mexican" costume (think sombrero, big mustache, and a poncho) runs about $20 dollars.
But unless you're Mexican or Latino and you're offering some kind of commentary on the sad state of politics, this would be in poor taste.
Think about it. A major party presidential candidate has repeatedly disparaged Latino immigrants during the campaign, promising to build a wall to keep them out if he’s elected. Why add insult to injury and aggravate the everyday racism already experienced by this group by showing up to Halloween festivities making light of their plight? It's an avoidable offense.
Some people, through their Halloween costume, genuinely wish to pay homage to a pop culture figure of a racial or ethnic group different than their own. That’s understandable. And there’s plenty of ways to do it without causing harm.
In these parts, I'd imagine Chance the Rapper will be a popular Halloween choice. He's actually been encouraging it. Since early October, he’s been selling his signature baseball cap with a "3" online. (They’re so popular that there's now a back-order list.)
Re-creating Chance the Rapper's general look and style couldn't be easier. Pair the "3" cap (or improvise one of your own) with a light jacket, a simple tee, and maybe even jeans or overalls. If you don't have a mustache, a fake one could work. You don’t even need a wig with kinky hair for this. And with that, you have a complete costume that doesn't veer into the racist territory of blackface performances. It's just that simple.
Although some Halloween stores sell makeup to make people "look" Native American, Chinese, or African, the availability of these products doesn’t count as justification for participating in a show of cultural ignorance. If you’re not black and you’re dressing up as a black celebrity, makeup isn’t necessary to make yourself appear "more convincing" in costume.
To be sure, racial insensitivity isn't the only potential problem when it comes to Halloween costumes. In recent years, some choices have come at the expense of women and femmes.
Just a few weeks ago, one online Halloween store went to market with a $70 "Parisian Heist Robbery Victim Costume Kit," a clear shot at Kim Kardashian's harrowing experience of being held against her will during a jewelry heist. The costume includes a white robe, a long black wig, two feet of rope, fake jewelry and—yes—a gag.
The reality star feared for her life during the ordeal, and worried that the robbers would sexually assault her. Regardless of anyone's personal opinion about the Kardashians' influence on celebrity culture, it's a terrible costume idea. Unfortunately, that won’t stop some people from buying the robbery victim package.
In case it isn’t obvious, violence against women shouldn’t be anyone’s convenient punch line.
Nobody wants to be the killjoy during what should be a lighthearted evening. Taking a moment for respectful consideration goes a long way in keeping Halloween fun for everyone. v