Campaign Pre-empts Halloween Racism

"We're a Culture, Not a Costume" posters give a face to groups offended by insensitive dress-up choices.

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ColorLines reports that an Ohio University student group, Students Teaching About Racism in Society, has created an educational campaign called "We're a Culture, Not a Costume" that juxtaposes images of typical Halloween costumes representing ethnic and cultural stereotypes (from a woman in blackface to a man in a sombrero on a donkey) with real-life images of young people. It adds a simple statement: "This is who I am, and this is not okay.”  

As of Monday evening, images from the campaign had been shared more than 50,000 times online.

STARS explained its goal in a statement:

"These posters act as a public service announcement for colored communities. It's about respect, human dignity, and the acceptance of other cultures (these posters simply ask people to think before they choose their Halloween costume). Although some Halloween costumes aren't as racist as the blackface minstrel shows back in the day, they harken to similar prejudices. What these costumes have in common is that they make caricatures out of cultures, and that is simply not okay."

Controversy surrounding racially offensive Halloween costumes and theme parties has become an annual tradition. Perhaps the most effective aspect of this campaign is that it avoids the predictable October debate over the costumes ("But it's meant to be funny!" "But it's an expression of free speech!") by humanizing the issue through a focus on the impact on members of the groups being mocked. Not to mention, it offers this awareness in advance instead of creating defensiveness by waiting until after the fact to scold those who thoughtlessly offend.

Hopefully the conversation will change this year as people seeing the campaign ask themselves not whether they should be allowed to dress in one of these costumes but, rather, why they would even want to.

Read more at ColorLines.

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