When it comes to Halloween costumes, sometimes it's all trick and no treat.
Just as predictable as the fall leaves, inevitably each year some revelers parade around in thoughtlessly-chosen costumes intended to be funny, racy or out-of-the-box — but instead perpetuate stereotypes and tropes that disparage people of color. It seems no matter how often we point out the hurtful implications of costumes that cheapen, exaggerate or mock ethnic backgrounds, cultural traditions and body features, some companies and DIYers don't get the message.
Needless to say, bigotry is a buzzkill.
Of course its not just racial stereotypes that rear their ugly head every October 31st, sexism and gender stereotypes are prevalent as well. It's always telling to compare the male and female "career" costume options available:
This isn't to say that women — or men — can't dress up as a "sexy" firefighter if they so choose, but when those are the only options offered to women, these types of outfits can reinforce actual disparities such as the gender pay gap and sexual harassment.
Halloween should be a fun evening for everyone, but first we need to do a better job at creating a culture in which cultural appropriation, sexism and racial stereotypes are no longer considered amusing or clever. Here's just a sampling of the many Halloween costumes — a few of which are NSFW — that should either be rethought or retired for good this Halloween:
1. Lil Gangsta
Apparently, this is what white people think a "gangster" looks like. The product description at Spirit of Halloween even encourages would-be wearers to "wear this... and may be she'll let you lick the [w]rapper," in reference to Weezy's "Lollipop."
Besides the obvious bling and grill, however, the most striking aspect of this costume is the model's use of a spray-tanned blackface — just check out the tan line on his neck. In case anyone remember's the controversy with Julianne Hough's "Crazy Eyes" costume last year, blackface has a sordid racial history and is a huge no-no.
Americans only started caring about Ebola when it threatened to arrive stateside, but countless Africans have died from the disease with little to no mention in the mainstream press, as Mic's Sophie Kleeman reported poignantly this month. With the media playing up racialized and even xenophobic hysteria around the disease, which is relatively contained in the United States, this costume plays into the hype while at the same time making light of an illness that's resulted in thousands of deaths during this most recent outbreak alone.
3. "Mexican Man"
"Grab a bag of tortilla chips, open a can of salsa, and show off your spiciness in this Mexican Style mens costume," says the product description, because apparently all it takes is a few stereotypical, and historically racialized features for an individual to be transformed into a Mexican national. "This funny costume comes with a colorful sarape, traditional sombrero, and giant mustache — sure to get you laughs both north and south of the border."
If anyone needs a so-called "spicy Latina" to accompany them to the party, there's also...
Mexican Shot Girl
4. "Indian Brave"
The recent controversy over team names based on Native Americans stereotypes has refocused attention on problematic "cowboys and Indians" tropes. This costume is a perfect example of how not to represent North America's indigenous inhabitants, who are unlikely to find it funny that white people are dressing up as them following centuries of genocide, colonization, disease and famine. Don't "join the tribal life" as the costume description encourages — because it's not authentic, nor does it show appreciation for Native Americans.
Pow Wow Wow
Going a step further in appropriating Native cultures, the Pow Wow Wow costume doubles down on offensive tropes. It misaligns a word that's not just about an inane meeting, but a forum by which Native Americans "pow wow" as a way of sharing songs, dances and stories that tell of their rich histories and heritage. And the costume also hypersexualizes the adornments of Native American women: "You'll be sending smoke signals to the chief when you wear this," says the catalog at Spirit of Halloween.
Granted, the costume isn't authentic in the first place.
5. A Tampon
In a world where many women can't have agency over their bodies and its functions without male judgment — a man walking around in a tampon is not very comical when you think about it. This type of costume bases its humor around the shame, stigma and miseducation that continues to surround reproductive health in America, especially how women care for their nether regions. Just as that "time of the month" doesn't actually turn all women into terrors, making light of tampons generates an unfortunate commentary ultimately rooted in male privilege.
6. "Adult Male Ho"
"Trixie is a lady man of the evening?" Stop right there.
This costume plays on the "man in a dress" trope, reinforcing discrimination against transgender women who endure mockery, violence and disproportionately high murder rates. Simply walking down the street or using the bathroom can become a case study in transgender discrimination in America. This costume also plays off the stereotype that all trans people engage in sex work.
7. "Bigger In Texas"
Men who have penises — regardless of size — can surely celebrate their bodies as they so please, but this isn't the way to do it. Male entitlement and privilege makes this kind of public display a brazen show of virility, dominance and masculinity — all attributes which together can be used to glorify or excuses away rape and sexual assault against men and women.
Also, did anyone ask to see your penis, or did you just assume consent was granted? This penis might be fake, but it still sets a very bad example.
"You're Jammin' this Halloween, mon, in this Rasta Hat with Dreadlocks," the product description says. "So sing about Ja like Bob Marley or Tosh."
In reality, the Rastafari movement is a spiritual tradition borne out of Christian culture in Jamaica, where many men do indeed wear dreadlocks. However, those religious beliefs and customs get reduced down to a few musicians, dreadlocks, color patterns inspired by the country's flag and smoking marijuana — not to mention a "blaccent" of the Jamaican variety.
"Ever wonder what happens to the girls that work at Hooters? There's no real retirement plan when you're a waitress — you've just gotta keep on working," according to the catalog item.
In real life, this is no laughing matter: For decades, women were limited to jobs in the service and retail industries, as well as administrative jobs, due to sexist employment practices. In contrast to white, heterosexual men and their employment opportunities, this costume lampoons the glass ceiling and resulting pay disparities with unfunny results.
10. "Frank the Flasher"
Flashing commonly lands men on sex offender registries, hardly the stuff of your neighborhood block party. When men expose themselves to young children or sexually exploit them — that's sexual assault. Period. The fact that this flasher appears to be elderly adds a whole other layer of absurdity — dementia is a debilitating affliction, not a punchline.
11. Geisha Lady
Most recreations of a geisha exhibit cultural confusion, mixing various elements of Asian cultures while appropriating a specific element of entertainment culture in Japan. And despite constant outcry from Asian communities about the cultural appropriation at play — as what happened at last year's American Music Awards with Katy Perry's performance of "Unconditionally," — many white people still think this is OK. It's not.
12. "Realistic Black Kenyan Man"
It's blackface — plain and simple.
Described by BestOfferBuy as a "Realistic costume head mask great for parties, gag and Harlem Shake," this allows other people to "be black" and appropriate black dances, stripping them of their cultural history, erasing the originators and mocking darker skin in the process.
13. "Snake Charmer"
This "snake charmer" costume is a deadly double dose of sophomoric penis humor and cultural appropriation. The name itself is often used as a slur, all while perpetuating a limiting and racist representation of people who hail from South Asia or even the Middle East. (In reality, actual snake charming as a musical and cultural phenomenon is heavily prevalent in India, but not the entire region.)
But many of those folks are all lumped in together when being targeted for hate crimes and racial profiling because of how they look or dress, which reached a fever pitch in America after 9/11. But that gets overlooked when people can accessorize with items that play up an "Arabian Nights" trope.
"This funny costume comes with Arabian-style red tunic, matching head scarf, sand-colored vest and baggy pants with strategically-placed snake and attached flute. The snake moves as you move the flute, giving off a charming impression," says the description at Spirit of Halloween.
14. "Anita Waxin"
It's apparently OK for men to have the choice to shave or not to shave their pubic hair. Women are clearly a different matter, however. This costume in particular sends the commandeering and body-shaming message that women must not have hair down there because it's "not appealing" or "ladylike."
"Help prep this lifeguard for beach time in Brazil," the description says, going on to make a racist pun to drive the point home. "Sometimes it's fun to go native, but this one's been in the bush too long."
Chinaman in itself is an anti-Asian slur that's used indiscriminately to mark or call-out people who are from East Asian countries. And this costume takes the offensive stereotype a step further by stealing various cultural artifacts, even written script, to devise a costume that's almost completely divorced from any cultural or historical context.
16. Hit and Run
"Play the victim on Halloween when you wear the Hit and Run Adult Costume," the catalog description says, but should anyone make fun of someone who is either seriously injured or dead after being hit by a driver who consciously tried to avoid being held accountable? These types of crashes are on the rise, according to a November 2013 report by USA Today, with states harshening penalties and restricting speed limits as a result.
17. "Cop O Feely"
"Get ready to frisk or be frisked... and enjoy the inflatable breasts," the description says at Spirit of Halloween. "Lay down the law."
Police harassment of women and minorities has taken center stage in recent years, with the outcry over stop-and-frisk laws that disproportionately target black and brown men. In addition, as various reports detailed, some cops take advantage of women during investigations, groping them or sexually assaulting them in the process.
That was the case with Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who was charged in August with raping or sexually abusing 8 black women. Hilarious.
18. "Blind Referee"
People who are blind or visually impaired have unique struggles because of their limitations around sight, a sense many people take for granted because they've always had it and believe they always will. This costume parades as a commentary on bad calls in sporting games, but takes an ableist strain by attaching the stigma of "poor judgment" to people who can't see.
"The ref must have been blind to make a call like that!" Bring this expression to life in a big way," says the catalog at Spirit of Halloween.
19. Pregnant School Girl
Teenage pregnancy, more often than not, exclusively makes women subject to moralizing and judgment, and not man who impregnated them — regardless of whether or not sex was consensual. And the product details for this costume at Party City, a popular national chain, is no exception from a double standard that also has healthcare implications.
"Our pregnant school girl costume tells everyone that you aren't the innocent girl you seemed. But hey, you still look super cute in your midriff-baring top and plaid skirt."
Do everyone a favor at Halloween gatherings by leaving this sexist spin on baby mama drama where it belongs — a crusty, dusty store shelf.