By Katie Kohls
When we were children, most of our parents dressed us up in cutesy costumes on Halloween and we would go door-to-door yelling “Trick-or-Treat!” and then constantly be reminded to say “Thank you!” as we exited the porch. Now as adults, some of us still dress up. It is fun being someone else: to take on that persona, a different outfit, and maybe outrageous makeup or mask to make us feel different for a night. Being someone else is freeing and a lot of fun. What’s not fun is when our costumes become offensive and degrading to others, and their lives are seen as our joke.
I have seen the “Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner” costume that has been circulating social media, and I’m aware of poor representations of African Americans, Native Americans, Muslims, etc. It should be common sense but these are terrible costume choices. Because then the costume isn’t about becoming someone else or just having fun, it’s making someone and their life is the butt of the joke. Oftentimes they also perpetuate terribly misinformed stereotypes and degrade people. It may not seem like you’re being a jerk, but you are.
For example, dressing up as a Native American or an “Indian” or African culture is not acceptable. Unlike say being a Greek goddess or Roman soldier, Native Americans are still alive. Also their history is tragic and it is amazing and inspiring that their culture has survived to this day. A similar argument is made for African Americans; their culture is important. Your appropriation of their traditional garments and traditions is disrespectful. And you are perpetuating crappy stereotypes that we should be beyond in the 21st century.
As for the costumes that are based on Sheiks or Arabs, stay away from them. Again they have a culture that is alive and thriving, and mimicking that in a costume is not a compliment. Apparently there is even a “Muslim suicide bomber” costume out there. These and other cultural appropriations are some of the things that make the rest of the world hate Americans, and even Americans hate Americans. And maybe some from certain groups won’t care and will see it as a dumb joke that doesn’t matter, but it may matter to someone. And you could seriously hurt them just by your dumb costume.
Like dressing up as Caitlyn Jenner — if a person is doing it because they admire what she stands for, then good for them. But for the male who puts on a dress to be a joke and get a laugh, not cool. The same goes for a girl who dresses up in Olympian gear to be Bruce. Because even if Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t see you and maybe doesn’t care, think of the message you’re giving or how you come off to people. We don’t know the struggle a person is going through, but making that struggle a joke helps no one. According to a Youth Suicide Prevention Program, more than 50 percent of Transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday. Do you want to possibly contribute to that? Whether you intend to influence them or not, you may, and you may just influence them enough to hurt them.
There are so many better things to go as for Halloween. Go as a princess whether traditional or hipster, be a cowboy and use those boots from the farm, be an animal or an insect, even use a play on words or a pun. Take a pop culture reference (not one that is a person’s actual life struggle) and go as it; be Marty McFly, channel Mean Girls and go as a mouse (duh), look to your favorite Disney movie for inspiration, or be the Spice Girls again. Search the internet for ideas, get creative, and have fun. But if you have nothing better to go as than someone else’s culture or life struggle, then dress up as yourself and go as a jerk.