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The Frightful Thought of a Culturally Aware Halloween

My favorite holiday is almost here: Halloween!

Many will rush to complete or buy last minute costumes this weekend, and others will prepare for the festivities in other ways. Since being in college, I’ve personally noticed a wide array of unique costume ideas. Some more thoughtful than others; the temperature’s dropped and snowed the past two Halloweens, yet it seemed like there was little to no change in the layers some people wore.

One thoughtless and alarming trend I’ve noticed among students is the use of cultural costumes. I can list a handful that comes to mind, but I’d rather put the energy towards changing the trend. Enter University of Colorado Boulder.

Recently, officials at University of Colorado Boulder took a proactive step towards promoting cultural awareness by issuing a letter to students asking them to consider the context of their costume. The letter says, “Making the choice to dress up as someone from another culture, either with the intention of being humorous or without the intention of being disrespectful, can lead to inaccurate and hurtful portrayals of other peoples’ cultures in the [university] community.” The letter concludes that the university “values freedom of expression and creativity both in and outside of the classroom. The [university] community also values inclusiveness, respect and sensitivity.”

University of Michigan issued a similar letter earlier this month, and Ohio University student group Students Teaching About Racism in Society, or STARS, launched its third annual campaign against hurtful Halloween costumes in the beginning of October.

Fox News and other news pundits picked up the story and weighed in claiming UC Boulder singlehandedly ruined Halloween. God forbid we wear some outfit inspired by a movie, profession, book, pop culture reference or otherwise. While I was expecting to read varying people comment and complain over the use of political correctness, I wasn’t expecting to find blunt racism, sexism and elitism (to name a few). It just so happens that I just read about a new word to describe this combination of awful –isms: white privilege.

The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white individuals may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. At JMU, we have an overwhelming majority of white students, and I’ve only seen a handful of questionable costume choices in my four years of being here.

One doesn’t have to don a stereotype to have a good time, but embrace the fun! You won’t ruin Halloween for everyone if you can’t wear a culturally fueled costume, but one badly thought out costume can ruin Halloween for anyone associated with it. So when I read through the horrendous comments some of the people decided to express, I can’t help but wonder who’s behind the keyboard? Anybody else thinking it might be old, generational white privilege?

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 5.29.24 PM

actual “top rated” comment from Fox News’ article

I’m so tired of all the hate that flies around so freely as if we lived in excess. I give all the universities a great big shout out and pat on the back for at least starting the conversation through their discourse. Maybe if more people adopted a fraction of their openness towards others, we’d live in a more publicly aware world where everyone was a little less self-centered and a little more conscious of their impact towards others.

What are your thoughts? Are we living in a world of “perpetual offense” as one Fox commenter put it, or are small discourses like UC Boulder and STARS steps toward awareness? Leave a comment below and let’s start a discussion!

5 Responses to “The Frightful Thought of a Culturally Aware Halloween”

  1. ladylikesailormouth

    I did a lot of research on a similar topic last year and completely agree with the stance of the colleges. Combating these forms of ironic racism- or racism that is masked in humor and notions that we are a post- racial nation- is difficult, I think particularly within the college structure. I think it is a great move by the universities to point it out because we need to stop pretending racism isn’t happening, as well as educate people on what racism really is.


  2. redheadfemme

    I’m so glad you chose this as a topic with halloween quickly approaching! I cannot believe that was a top rated comment…so ridiculous. Furthermore, I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that Fox news articles considered UC Boulder’s letter an attempt to ruin Halloween. That’s basically saying Halloween is the time to culturally appropriate various races and cultures with the “cover up” of it being Halloween and all in good fun. Amazing how white privilege misconstrues peoples’ thinking. Great post!



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