Opinion: Is it ever ok to dress as a different race/ethnicity?

Bruce Walton is a senior columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Bruce Walton

I hope everyone had an enjoyable time last Halloween weekend and yesterday’s Halloween. But I’d like to ask you: At the parties where you saw everyone’s elaborate costumes they’ve spent weeks getting together, did any of them seem racist?

Personally for me last week I was at a friend’s apartment and one of his guests was dressed as a Mexican, complete with a poncho, moustache and a sombrero. While I was there I didn’t think much of it, it was a costume like everyone else. But after a while it started to fester in my head about the implications of that costume, that I’ve never seen a Mexican on TV, movies or in real life dressed like that, unless it’s an exaggerated caricature. Even though I’m sure he had no intention to be, it was racist, or at the very least racially insensitive.

There have been problems of this in the past that I remembered reading about predominantly white fraternities, sororities and colleges across America that have had a considerable amount of student dressed as different races and cultures of people. Some people were being blatantly racist, dressing as Chinese people with squinted eyes, a robe, big teeth and oriental straw hats with a long braid in the back.

For my race in particular, there were “ghetto parties,” where white students dressed up like black people in the “ghetto.” Girls wore tight midriffs and stuffed their pants to make their butts look big and the boys wore wife-beaters, sagged their pants, and wore doo-rags and baseball caps turned to the side. And then at the party they play rap music, and twerk and drink nothing but 40 oz. bottles of malt liquor.

People would even go so far as to come in all blackface to these parties, even wearing grills and saying the N-word like they invented it. It was appalling to see that and I was glad that many campaigns by minority organizations cracked down on this kind of thing. Now if anything like that happens, it will be all over the news and students and organizations can be suspended or banned from the university.

But are there grey areas of this whole situation? Is dressing up as a Native American a racist costume? Yes, yes it is. It is the same thing as dressing up like a sleeping Mexican or a nerdy Asian, just because there isn’t anyone to be offended by the costume around when you where it doesn’t make it any less offensive.

There’s also been a recent trend of black people dressing up as white people. This is not okay either, and I urge anyone wanting to do any kind of face to not do this. Ever.

But how about characters from shows or movies? How about celebrities? What if you’re white, and you want to go as Barack Obama and want to brown your face up to make it more authentic? Yes, that’s racist. The part that makes it racist isn’t dressing up as Obama, but dressing up as Obama’s race to be more like him. You can dress as characters that have a different race than you, but if you try to change your race for it, that’s too far. And same thing goes for people’s sexual orientations as pink-wearing, fabulous gay guys or short-haired plaid-wearing lesbians.

Costumes are exaggerations of characters, and as such there is no grey area because if you dress as another’s race, culture or lifestyle, not the character, you still are making a stereotype of millions.