Stop Racist Halloween Costumes!

Single-Minded: A Q&A with the leaders of an Ohio University campaign against offensive garb.

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Halloween is nothing like it used to be. I was a late-October baby, and my childhood birthday pictures swap cakes and candles for ghosts and ghouls. Two Halloweens in a row I was a "movie star," which in 1989 meant a long "red carpet" dress from the thrift store and really, really big sunglasses.

But these days Halloween is either an excuse for someone to slap a tail on a black-lace teddy and call it a "sexy tiger" costume, or to slather on some black face, a ball cap, fake bling and voilà! "Sexy thug."

The 10 members of Ohio University's STARS organization were fed up with offensive costumes that reinforce negative racial and cultural stereotypes. So STARS, which stands for Students Teaching About Racism in Society, created a poster campaign to draw attention to those costume choices that are simply "not okay." With just five powerful posters featuring young men or women of various races holding a photo of a "racist costume," the students of STARS have started a movement.

Since posting pictures of the "We're a Culture, Not a Costume" campaign online last Friday, STARS President Sarah Williams and her organization have gotten attention from local news, CNN, MSNBC and even Germany. A nerve has been struck.

In between their classes, The Root caught up with Williams, a senior majoring in political science, and the posters' designer, Taylor See, a junior retail-merchandising and fashion product-development major. We talked about the origin of the campaign and where it's headed next.

The Root: So, what is STARS? What's the organization's goal?

SW: We've been on OU's campus since 1988. STARS started as a class on race taught by Sheila Williams, a psychologist here, and it grew into an organization. Our main purpose is to facilitate a discussion about racism and discrimination. Our purpose is to educate. We brought a former knight of the KKK to OU, we've sponsored voter-registration drives and hosted a panel on Islamophobia.

TR: How do Halloween costumes fit in?

TS: Just last year a group of white students hosted a "black party." Attendees painted their skin brown, showed up in "grills" and "urban clothing." They served chicken and watermelon. We decided that was something we should address. And when the time came this October, we thought a poster campaign would be an inexpensive way to spread the word.

TR: What's been the reaction thus far?

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