Halloween costumes: where do we draw the line?

That time has come again where we must consider who we truly are, where we must be original and imaginative and create something that will make us go down in history (or at least get a few Facebook likes). Yes I am of course talking about the annual search for a Halloween costume.

Prior to now it was perfectly adequate to dress up as anything (slutty) as long as you wore a pair of animal ears (for girls) or a Poundland mask (for males). However now, post-Indieism, to do so would be to not only display yourself as mainstream but also as boring, unoriginal and essentially just the worst sort of person.

So whilst it may be nice to witness a parade of Angry Birds, Hotdogs and Condoms strolling through Willow, this wave of creativity does present some sort of an annual issue. A problem is now arising where in the line between offensive and inoffensive is becoming blurred.

Whilst the majority of us are perfectly aware of the controversy that arose when certain members of this student body dress as Jimmy Saville, what would be our reaction to those of us innocently donning Sombrero’s or face-paint and Tigerlilly plaits? This is a debate getting a lot of attention right now due to the Colorado student campaign “I’m a culture not a Halloween costume”, a picture campaign in which student minorities can be seen criticising how others may replicate their culture for fun during Halloween. In response to the campaign the university has banned all students from dressing up as “cowboys, Indians, and anything with a sombrero”.

In doing so however I believe that they are truly insulting the intelligence of their student’s, who they should assume know the difference between a stereotype and reality. Stereotypes themselves are not intrinsically racist or offensive because quite frankly every race, culture and nationality has them and the intelligent individual doesn’t deny their existence but knows they are not true. Mexican’s do not lazily lie around wearing Sombrero’s any more than we sit around in tweed having ‘Teee with the Queeen” whilst guffawing through our dodgy teeth.

Stereotypes have always existed but they are only dangerous when people think there is truth in them or discriminate based on them. To ban dressing up as a stereotype gives them importance and gravity that they truly do not deserve.

The issue is therefore not in the stereotypes themselves but rather how they are used. It’s okay to laugh with someone but it’s not okay to laugh at them. If ethnic minorities do feel offended by a fancy dress costume then this is reflective of divide and discrimination in general.

To say dressing up as a different culture is either acceptable or not acceptable does not appreciate the full issue, it depends completely on the people and the environment involved. Dressing up as an Irishman on March the 17th and having a good old ‘craic’ in a London pub is okay because in general at this moment in time there is little animosity between the Irish and the English. Thirty years ago when racism against the Irish was rife and tensions were high then this was not okay. There is a vast difference between your friend mimicking you and your enemy mocking you. The fancy dress costume itself is also incredibly important.

The images used in the campaign are not the same in nature and therefore this greatly weakens their impact. Dressing up in a Sombrero or as a Geisha is not the same as blacking up, it’s offensive to suggest it is. Mexico and Japan are countries, where you will find Mexican and Japanese people and Mexican and Japanese customs and dress. Skin colour however is not a nationality, therefore to dress up as a “black person” is absurd and incredibly ignorant.

Finally, it comes down to common sense and understanding. If you feel you are in a well-integrated community and you have no intention of causing offense then by all means do it. If, however, you are too unimaginative to think of an attention grabbing costume that isn’t deliberately offensive or racist then please just head to your nearest Poundland.


  1. ‘If you feel you are in a well-integrated community and you have no intention of causing offense then by all means do it. ‘
    Can’t help but feel you just defeated your argument, ignorant people won’t necessarily consider what they’re doing offensive and you just gave them a free pass

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  2. 28 Oct ’13 at 4:47 pm

    Jim Ilphickset

    Now then, now then, now then

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  3. 11 Nov ’13 at 1:37 pm

    Jeswin 'Fernando' Buttercheski

    what the fuck is wrong with sombreros?

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  4. There’s all kinds of Mexicans. They can be saints or sinners, men of God or wanted men. But what’s to stop us from cosplaying as either?

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