Mommy, can I be a Middle Eastern terrorist this Halloween?
Not words you would likely hear a child say when selecting a Halloween costume, so why do adults think “being” a race or culture as a costume is appropriate?
Students Teaching Against Racism in Society (STARS) at Ohio University attacked this issue with a brilliant series of posters demonstrating how ridiculously offensive it is to be a “culture” for Halloween. This bewildering behaviour has been a problem on campuses in both Canada and the United States and has even extended beyond Halloween. Universite de Montreal students recently sparked controversy during frosh week this September by donning blackface, appearing to present themselves as a Jamaican track team.
“We’re a culture. Not a costume.”
What makes the posters effective is their simplicity. Talking somebody through reinforcing stereotypes, the white privilege that allows it, and the fact that it just makes you look plain silly can be an exhausting task. The images allow real people to confront the costumes and puts the onus on the audience to think why this trend is in fact offensive.
Of course, there are always those who think that groups like STARS are simply oversensitive, overly politically correct, and that Halloween is just for fun anyway. (Visit comment boards at the Globe and Mail, the Daily Mail for an array of opinions.)
The campaign speaks to this by simply putting out there that it’s not okay to use an inaccurate popular Western representation of a group because members of these groups are telling you it’s not okay. And really, if you choose to dress up as a Middle Eastern terrorist, do you truly believe it is a low-key, depoliticized costume choice?
Of course, there are some that the campaign simply won’t reach but given it’s wide distribution on the web and that Diversity and Student Affairs at Ohio University has offered to help pay for printing these posters, it seems that those that are rolling their eyes may be on the fringe.
The campaign is a win on two fronts: recognizing that archaic stereotypes have bled onto fun holidays like Halloween and creating awareness to prevent the use of such stereotypes to keep the holiday fun.
So put away that burqa, poncho and black facepaint and get going on your costume!