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Halloween Don’ts: Avoid Racially Offensive Costumes


Halloween Don’ts: Avoid Racially Offensive Costumes

Woman in geisha costume.

Getty Images

Once upon a time, Halloween costumes were simple. Witches, princesses and ghosts surfaced as the most popular get-ups. Not so anymore. In recent decades, the public has taken a fancy to costumes that make a statement. Unfortunately, these costumes sometimes make statements viewed as racist or anti-Semitic, such as the time Prince Harry chose to don a Nazi outfit to a party in 2005. Want to make a splash with your Halloween costume but not one that’s racially offensive? Then avoid the following get-ups.

    Ghetto Person/Black Person

    Rappers introduced the term “ghetto fabulous” into the American lexicon in the 1990s. The term refers to the flamboyant fashions that arise from the streets of inner cities. Who knew in the ’90s that college kids nationwide would throw parties in the new millennium with “ghetto fab” themes? Guests at such parties sport lots of “bling,” or ostentatious jewelry. Some might cover their teeth with fake gold or platinum caps and their heads with do-rags. Women might wear huge hoop earrings, fake fingernails and the scanty clothing that rap video vixens wear. Men might style their hair in cornrows or don Afro wigs.

    The problem with these ghetto fab costumes is that they invoke stereotypical images of African Americans as low-class, gauche, thuggish and sexually provocative, among others. These costumes tend to be classist and racist, impelling black college students who become aware of “ghetto fab” parties to have disciplinary action taken against party organizers for creating a racially hostile environment on campus.


    The flipside of the ghetto fab costume is the redneck or hillbilly Halloween costume, which is also both racist and classist. Those opting for such a costume might wear a mullet wig, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, along with jeans and a plaid shirt. Such costumes promote the stereotype that poor whites are ignorant and worthy of ridicule. They suggest that poor and working class whites are inherently inferior to their more affluent counterparts.

    Geisha Girl

    Oddly enough, the geisha girl costume is popular among girls and women, alike. Considering that geishas are perceived to be high-end prostitutes in many circles, that’s cause for concern. Also troubling is that, along with the dragon lady, china doll and lotus blossom, geisha girl is a racial and sexual stereotype thrust upon Asian women. The geisha stereotype is one that paints Asian women as submissive, doll-like and existing only to sexually gratify others.

    A contributor to Racialicous.com who goes by the name Atlasien poignantly spelled out why she objects to the appropriation of the geisha image.

    “Geisha are not very relevant in modern-day Japan. They’re a fossilized archetype, almost like ninja,” she remarked. “But a lot of people, especially white people, are invested in defending geisha, in putting them on a pedestal. And when they do that, it does harm to Japanese-American women and to all Asian-American women.”


    The 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon not only put Arab and Muslim Americans under additional scrutiny in the U.S., they also resulted in a rise in costumes related to Islamic fundamentalism. Want to wear a burqa for Halloween? There’s a costume for it. How about a Muslim suicide bomber? That costume’s available as well. The question is why would you want to wear one of these costumes? They’re far more likely to offend people you encounter than make them laugh. To boot, they raise the worst stereotypes about Muslim Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom are peaceful, law-abiding citizens.

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