What is the Costume Campaign...And Why Do We Do It?
LSPIRG's "I Am Not A Costume" campaign aims to draw awareness to the problematic nature of many Halloween costumes. We know that most folks do not pick out a costume with the intention of being racist or transphobic. But regardless of intentions, appropriative costumes still perpetuate harmful stereotypes and justify more aggressive and violent situations.
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
Good question! It's possible because racism, transphobia and ableism are all engrained into our history. It has been built through generations of oppression, targeted towards marginalized communities by groups who deem themselves to be superior. (side bar; we acknowledge that this discrimination is still ongoing and is a lived reality for many individuals. We would like to stress that these conversations should happen all year round - not just during Halloween). This annual campaign exists to generate dialogue on campus and in the community about various forms of oppression in a critical and pro-active way. Halloween should be safe and enjoyable for everyone, without said enjoyment being at the expense of others' dignity and safety. This Halloween (and every Halloween) we invite and encourage fellow students and community members to participate in undoing existing harmful beliefs and practices related to Halloween costumes, and promoting those that ensure equity and respect for those of us whose identities are marginalized in society at large.
To take significant elements (symbols, dress, words, practices, etc) from one culture and remove all original context or meaning, usually with the goal of using these elements to make oneself seem "edgy", or to allow and encourage monetary profit. This can happen in a variety of forms but often around Halloween it involves wearing 'costumes' that rely on specific cultural signifiers and stereotypes. Dressing up as a ethnicity, race, or culture that is not your own is problematic and racist, and it's up to everyone to work together ensure it doesn't continue among our friend groups, families and communities.
Costumes that rely on cultural dress and/or stereotypes are offensive and oppressive.
Even if you don’t think you’re vehemently racist, you can still perpetuate racism.
If you're reading this and thinking, "But it's just a costume", take a moment to reflect on why you think that's the case. It's likely that your culture and/or identity has not be historically and currently trivialized, mocked, and viewed as "funny" or "scary" to dress in. Making someone else's culture and/or identity a caricature for you to wear for one night is a terrible costume idea.
HOW TO RESPOND;
If You've Appropriated in the Past
1) Don't sit in guilt. We need to attempt to do better by being accountable and educating ourselves (you can find a link of resources at the bottom of the page)
2) Start the conversation with someone engaging appropriation. Asking a person why they chose a costume, and whether they realize it's appropriative and offensive is a good place to start. This will be uncomfortable, but fight the fear or discomfort if you can. Remember that cultural appropriation is part of a larger system of white supremacy that perpetuates higher rates of violence and poverty for marginalized people, and gives less opportunities for marginalized folks to exist outside of harmful stereotypes. If you come from many places of privilege, challenge that it practical ways (ex: recommend and share articles written by marginalized folks who write about cultural appropriation). It's important to centre the voices of people experiencing the harms of appropriation first-hand.
3) If you're met with the negative reactions of people whose identity / culture you've appropriated, try your best to see where they are coming from and don't take the reaction personally. Anger can be caused by my things, but in this case it's likely to stem from the appropriation being yet another thing to add to the pile of oppression that people face daily. It's also necessary to not expect the person or people you've harmed to assuage your guilt. It's exhausting and frustrating to not only be marginalized, but be expected to comfort someone who's participated in marginalizing you. Remind yourself that it's your responsibility to make amends regardless of whether the person / people forgive you.
4) If you feel safe doing so, volunteer your experience to other people in your inner circle and wider community whenever it's relevant. There might be people you know that have engaged in appropriation and feel badly about it, but don't know how to move forward. Sharing and being vulnerable builds trust; it also shows that people are able to change and develop their worldview in more equitable ways individually and together as a community.
5) Continue to assess how you are moving forward. This type of (re)education is ongoing and won't end unless all existing systems of oppression do. Stay humble and always be open to learning, and encouraging others to do the same whenever possible.
If You're Witnessing Appropriation of your Culture/Identity
1) You have every right to be hurt and angry. This has been happening for centuries, and it adds up in the most insidious ways. Even if you don't know exactly where the discomfort is coming from, trust your gut. You don't have to even speak up against the costume in question. Just know that your feelings are valid.
2) Find support for yourself and your feelings. This can be a trusted classmate, family member, friend, prof, counsellor, pet etc. Self-care is very much encouraged if and whenever possible.
3) Remember that you not being aware of appropriation before doesn't mean it's your fault that it's still happening. The responsibility of not appropriating an identity falls on the appropriators, whether their intentions were or weren't malicious. Also, try not to beat yourself up if you've worn a costume that appropriates your own identity. This doesn't mean that others have permission to appropriate your culture, either. There's simply a serious lack of representation of marginalized people in all areas of life, due to colonization, capitalism and white supremacy.
4) Educate yourself with representation of your own identities, and seek out others with similar identities and experiences. This can be super affirming and it's always nice to be able to relate (and vent) to someone or people who "get it". It can make a world of difference when we see people like us who are empowered and happy with themselves, regardless of whether they align with the stereotypes associated with their identities.
5) Know that you aren't obligated to educate everyone on why they need to stop engaging in harm like cultural appropriation. Your time and emotions are your own, and not owed as an encyclopedia or resource for someone learning to respect your humanity and dignity. It is up to people grappling with their privileges to put in the time and work to unlearn problematic behaviour, and to do so with humility, accountability and persistence.
Tips on Hosting an Equitable Halloween Party
1) Let attendees know right away that appropriative costumes are not allowed
2) Choose a theme that isn't centered or hinged on appropriation. Instead, promote a theme that encourages people taking characters with privileged identities and making them their own, and/or continuing to engage with existing positive representation.
3) Have a plan for what happens if someone still shows up wearing an appropriative costume (will they be banned, will they be asked to change into a spare costume, etc.) It's often easier to tackle these scenarios with a plan in place before a house is packed full of party-goers.