What You Can Do About Offensive Halloween Costumes

Written on October 31, 2013 at 10:49 am , by

Image courtesy of the University of Colorado Boulder and Ohio University Students Teaching About Racism In Society (STARS)


I moved to Boulder, Colorado, from Washington, DC, a little more than a year ago. There are a lot of wonderful things about living here. It’s beautiful, the weather is usually great (minus our biblical flood last month) and the people are incredibly nice (they don’t even honk when they have every reason to). But racially and culturally diverse it is not. And in the past I’ve noticed that when you don’t have a lot of experience with people of difference races, ethnicities or religions, you are susceptible to sometimes doing and saying things that reflect a lack of awareness.

That’s why I was really relieved and happy to see this awareness campaign at the University of Colorado for Halloween. It doesn’t blame people for being stupid or assume they’re bigots. Instead, it shows how an ignorant attempt at being funny can reinforce racial stereotypes and reflect a personal ignorance that can be really hurtful to others.

What’s particularly important about an institution like the University of Colorado doing this campaign is it takes the pressure off  students who are in the minority. Being the one of anything among a majority can be exhausting and frustrating because it’s hard enough to feel comfortable in your environment without calling out people every time they say or do something stupid to you or about you.

As a parent, and especially if you live in a community where most people look the same, these are the kinds of spontaneous moments you can use to concretely impart a lesson about racism. Show your kids the Colorado campaign. Ask them what they think about it. Then tell them how you would feel if you were the parent of the Asian child, the black child or the poor white child who is being made fun of in these pictures. These are the lessons that last a lifetime.

Have you taken note of any offensive Halloween costumes this year? Post a comment and tell me what happened.



Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

4 Responses to “What You Can Do About Offensive Halloween Costumes”

  1. You can mind your own business.

  2. (sigh) the more attention – positive OR negative – they receive, the more it is encouraged. you’re all supposedly mothers, or at least parents…you KNOW that ANY attention is enough to perpetuate a behavior. and it IS for one night, and (hopefully at least) in a spirit of fun.
    do you also tilt at the windmill of Gilbert & Sullivan? William Shakespear? all the other classic writers who in one way or another perpetuate stereotypes that have become political hot potatoes?
    as a “Native American” (a term I find cumbersome and silly, by the way, as well as inaccurate – “Indian” never bothered me or any of the others I know…yet another example of over-zealous political “correctness”), I see children – and adults – dressed as my people constantly, up to and including at our own powwows. we smile indulgently and hope they end up learning something.
    screaming and pointing fingers seldom discourages anyone who genuinely deserves it – it tends to egg them on. those who do it innocently often become resentful. you REALLY want to stop it? give it the total lack of interest and attention it deserves…like you would any other misbehaving child.

  3. When I saw your sentiments about Boulder, CO. I had to check your article out further! I lived in Boulder for almost four years in the mid eighties and couldn’t wait to come home! I am from the Puget Sound area of Washington state. The town in which I grew up, Tacoma, has been likened to a little New Jersey. It is a working class, very old, logging and industrial military town. So, yes, it is racially robust! I evidence the outcome of such divergent social and economic registers in that I am 1/2 asian, 1/4 Apache, and 1/4 Mexican and definitely not white. :) Though blunders about ethnicity (at the least) abounded in Tacoma, racist attitudes often had to take a backseat to the more critical issues of union picket lines, fishing rights, or even shared beers at the local tavern. Boulder felt as foreign to me as Jimi Hendrix at a Beach Blanket Bingo party. The complete absence of old cars told me a ream of information in itself. The laughing organic Buddhist woman’s reference that they “had their own Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche” made me want to scream! But I was there for poetry at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics or Naropa for short, not to teach organic yuppies that were they truly working on their “attachments” her use of the possessive would be where I would personally start! But where I lost my cool was when my daughter came home one day from school to tell me the apartment manager was dressed up like an Indian for Halloween! Since the manager was a woman of about 35 who liked flirting with the high school boys upstairs, I had a feeling her Indian outfit would be something like a fake buckskin mini-dress with go-go boots. My father’s stories of severe racial persecution in New Mexico against Apaches had made me a little over-sensitive to the use of our family’s past as Indian “costumes”. The manager was a woman who tended to be a little dismissive of other’s discomforts, “Oh it isn’t that bad! You’ll have a stove in a couple of weeks or so. Until then you can just eat hamburgers and pizzas!” So when I received the same dismissive wave of her hand with a quip about, “Oh it’s all in good fun!” I unloaded with a brief history of colonization in the Southwest and how the ability to wear another ethnicity as a “fun costume” just emphasized her privilege as someone not having to live under the shadow of socialized racism. With her mouth hanging open, she pulled the feathers out of her hair. It would have been perfect except I proceeded to feel bad and apologized for being such an asshole about it! Sigh…! I have Got to learn to stop apologizing!

  4. Oh my, poor babies… we mustn’t live in a world where someone has to be uncomfortable or endure something unpleasant! Righteous indignation/playing the victim is nothing more than a childish tactic to put yourself above others by claiming moral high ground. It seems like people are just sitting around looking for a reason to be insulted so they can start a crusade. Reminds me of the young woman who wanted to suppress the term “illegal alien”, because it was demoralizing to persons in the US who are here without legal status.

    Grow. Up.