Racist costumes aren’t disguising anything

Orla Brady

It’s the time of year again where those festive spirited members of society begin to consider what costume they will conjure up for Halloween. Whether it be to catch the attention of fellow party-goers at Halloween club nights or enter the popular social media race to attract likes and praise for the most inventive costume ideas, costume making takes a lot of time, energy, and imagination to achieve the perfect outfit. 

2018 saw a rise in superhero costumes, alongside unicorn and clown-themed themed attire, and costumes inspired by the videogame Fortnite according to last year’s Google searches. This year, it is predicted that these costumes will remain extremely popular, however with Brexit scheduled to take place on the same day at the Halloween festivities, it is certain that we can expect some costumes inspired by the political figures surrounding this as people attempt to make light of the situation.

In the bubble of social media, comedic costumes gain equal, if not more, attention than more traditional horror getup. This means that the boundaries of what is socially acceptable to wear at Halloween are continuously pushed in the name of originality and imagination. But when does this become deeply problematic? Unfortunately, the answer is, all too often.

Controversy has come hand in hand with Halloween numerous times, with specific costumes being the talking point of both the media and society during the festive season every year. Offensive costume ideas appear year in and year out, whether they be considered racist or culturally inappropriate by exaggerating unjust stereotypes of certain races or nationalities. Opinions surrounding these costumes are frequently divided into two opposing sides: those who believe that it is unacceptable to isolate and mimic the appearance of specific people in order to gain laughs and popularity, or those who take the stance that it is a time of light-hearted amusement and that we must stop appearing overly sensitive and offended by clothes and makeup that are intended to come across as a joke. 

It is an undeniable fact that the decision to take part in “blackface”, namely a white individual wearing makeup that is supposedly intended to copy the appearance of a black individual, has slumped in popularity since the mid-to-late 20th century. 

It is difficult to justify this behaviour in the name of Halloween when looking at the history of blackface. It became an extremely negative stereotype in America during the time of slavery right through to segregation. White actors frequently wore black makeup in order to mock the appearance of those that they believed to be an inferior race to themselves. This also inspired Thomas D. Rice’s famous character Jim Crow, in which he donned ragged clothing and black makeup made through burnt cork. “Jim Crow” became an offensive term that was used towards African Americans in order to express white supremacy and led to the “Jim Crow laws” which enforced segregation within states in Southern America throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. 

Reflecting on this, it is easy to understand the way in which blackface has become directly associated with racism due to the racist and prejudiced opinions that it encouraged throughout America’s recent history. Therefore, blackface has no place in today’s society, and regardless of who you wish to impersonate, a Halloween costume is not an appropriate justification for doing it. The suffering and degradation that has come alongside this outweighs any attempt at justification. 

Although the majority of people fully understand this, there remains a few who do not. Only this year, a picture of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau emerged showing his interpretation of a character from Aladdin back in 2001, which included explicit black makeup. This led to more pictures emerging of the politician wearing similar looks which featured blackface in his youth, naturally damaging his political and moral reputation. Although Trudeau has publicly apologised since these images were shared through the media, it has been the centre of conversation for several weeks and will certainly impact his career and popularity very negatively. 

A quick Google search can show the numerous offensive costumes that have emerged throughout the history of Halloween. From Hitler costumes to terrorists and refugees, many people have targeted groups of people who have either incited evil or suffered at the hands of war and prejudice all in the name of comedic and eye-catching Halloween costumes. It begs the question, how could they not think twice before stepping outside or posing for a photograph dressed in this way?

There is a simple solution to this problem. Just don’t do it. If you are attempting to push the boundaries of what is acceptable to mimic, the odds are it will come across as offensive and disrespectful in more ways than one. People must think of the connotations of racial stereotypes before, consciously or not, promoting them through costumes. If a Halloween costume has a political, sexual, and/or racial social theme attached to it, careful consideration must be made as to whether it may justifiably attract negative attention. If any doubt arises, or peers seem uneasy as you describe your idea, just go as a zombie. Halloween is not an excuse to parody racism or suffering.


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