Letter: We are a culture, not a costume

Taylor Tougaw

Submitted by The President’s Multicultural Student Advisory Committee

With Halloween approaching, you either have a costume ready or need to pick something out A.S.A.P. You need a costume to match how creative and amazing you are. A costume to impress your friends. As fellow CSU students, we hope you’ll also weigh one more factor when choosing what to wear this weekend – does your costume actually perpetuate cruel stereotypes that are harmful to other people? If so, we ask that you think twice and be respectful.

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“We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” is a nationwide campaign initiated by students at Ohio University, this campaign spreads awareness at OU about the negative effects of dressing up as another ethnicity or representing another demographic for Halloween. Here at CSU, we’re spreading that same message to bring awareness about this topic to our campus.

Why is it offensive? CSU has a diverse student, faculty and staff body from many different cultures and backgrounds – that’s one of the best parts of an academic community like ours. We have an opportunity to learn with and from people who may not look like us, believe the same things we do, or share one history and culture. Along with that diversity comes a need for all of us to respect different cultural (including gender identity, disability, ethnic, and religious) backgrounds to create a campus that is safe and welcoming for all people. Which means we should not mock any identity.

It is also important to know that you can appreciate a culture without appropriating it. Picking an ethnic costume for the sake of humor is appropriation-you are picking elements of the culture and either mocking it or reducing its significance. To help differentiate between appreciation and appropriation consider asking yourself these questions: “Am I reducing this to a fashion statement? Are people of this culture the ones who are profiting off of this? Am I in an environment where this is appropriate?” And no, it does not matter if you have an African American, Asian, Mexican, Native, disabled or gay friend who says it’s OK for you to dress as another culture or who says they do not mind if you dress as their identity. If you are planning on wearing a costume that represents another race or underrepresented identity in public, you will likely come across a person from that ethnicity or background, not just your friend.

 

When students dress up as another race, the intent is often to shame or mock that ethnicity, culture or identity they are dressing up as. Consider religious costumes and how traditional symbols such as tattoos or significant markings are not ok to use. Many ethnicities have been historically oppressed. Others have high rates of sexual assault. Others continue to struggle every day for basic civil rights and human dignity. Turning someone’s culture into a costume may seem harmless, but in reality making light of someone’s identity and culture perpetuates harmful racist and sexist stereotypes, and makes people of different races and identities feel unwelcome and unsafe in our community.


If you’re not sure whether your costume crosses that line, just remember this: It is NEVER acceptable to paint your face any color to represent another race or culture. No, do not paint your face black for that ghetto-themed party you were invited to (or even go to a party with that theme). No, do not paint your face white because you want to dress as a geisha. No, do not paint your face red with war paint because you’re dressing up as American Indian for the night. No, do not paint a bindi on your face and dress as Eastern Indian. All of these infringe upon cultural, ethnic and religious identities. It does not matter if you’re deliberately setting out to mock an entire group of people or if it happens by accident because you didn’t realize your costume was offensive. Even if the intent is not to bring harm or insult, it may do just that. Which means the impact of that harm is much more significant than the intention behind the costume choice.

Please use good judgment when choosing your Halloween costume. Please avoid choosing a costume that can be sexually, racially or ethnically offensive. This includes people of color dressing up as white. It goes both ways. Additionally, please refrain from dressing up as members of LGBTQ+ or disabled community. These are not ethnic or religious groups of students, but it is just as offensive when you want to dress as someone’s sexual identity or highlight people’s disabilities for a Halloween costume.

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So when is it acceptable to paint your face? What other creative ideas exist out there? A whole lot, folks. When you want to dress up as a member from the band KISS, paint your face black and white in metal awesomeness. Paint your face blue and be a member of the Blue Man Group for a night. When you want to be the witch from Wizard of Oz and go all out with the color green, have at it. We are challenging everyone to really think about what they are dressing up as- there are an abundance of fictional characters to choose from. Get creative and be a bubble gum machine, be a pumpkin, the whole world is your oyster of cultural and ethnic representation-free options. Show future employers who see your social media accounts how creative you can be! Remember, photos (even if you delete them) are likely on the internet forever.

As we think of ourselves as part of the CSU community, remember our principles of community, as we are responsible to uphold the principles when engaging with one another as well as representing the CSU community. The choice is yours, but we hope you’ll consider our position when dressing this Halloween – and remember, we’re a culture, not a costume.

The President’s Multicultural Student Advisory Committee—also known as PMSAC—is an appointed advisory group to President Tony Frank. PMSAC empowers students from underrepresented and diverse populations to engage, discuss, and make recommendations around enduring issues pertaining to the climate of diversity and inclusiveness at Colorado State University.