With disappointing predictability, around this time of year the issue of racist, culturally appropriative and offensive Halloween costumes arises again.
Sadly it is deemed by many (often privileged people) in society to be appropriate to utilise the dress or symbols of another culture or race as a “costume”. This is incredibly damaging for a multitude of reasons. Firstly the costumes which are appropriated mainly belong to ethnic groups who have been historically oppressed and discriminated against and still undergo this treatment today. Common examples include the use of fake Native American head-dresses, if we take a moment to consider the racism perpetuated on Natives Americans and the discrimination they still face today we see why it is incredibly problematic to take a piece of traditional clothing, remove it from it’s meaning and use it as an accessory. Often by the very same class of people who have been complicit in their suffering. This is just one such example but many more such instances exist. Another extremely pertinent case would be the incident which occurred last year at Edinburgh University, whereby three students from the law society dressed up in blackface as “Somali Pirates”. This resulted in significant distress for a number of the students at the university, including myself, a half-Somali woman. This is direct evidence as to why offensive costumes should not be tolerated. It perpetuates misleading and harmful stereotypes about people who are often already struggling under various forms of oppression and contributes to the institutionalised racism which people of colour are sadly still subjected to throughout society.
The people engaging in activities such as these are often amongst the most privileged in society, whether this be by skin colour, ethnic background, gender, nationality or wealth. It is vital that behaviour such as this is not tolerated on (or off) our campus. It is incredibly alienating to ethnic minorities and creates a space which is not welcoming or friendly to those not from a certain background. The university should be a safe space for all its students and not lend to, perpetuate or tolerate instititionalised racism or discrimination.
To people who dismiss the legitimate concerns and dismay of people offended by practices such as these it is important they re-assess their position in society and take account of the factors which may lead them to not be affected by such costumes.