Talking about Tolerance: “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” Campaign

October 28, 2011

Talking about Tolerance: “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” Campaign

[caption id="attachment_651" align="alignright" width="447" caption="Racially offensive costumes are more than a "trick" this Halloween"][/caption] Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, an opinion that I know I share with many children and teens. There is just something magical about the one day a year when you can wear whatever you want and not have to worry about repercussions. As a child I remember dressing up as Jem, the 1980’s cartoon rocker, and spray painting my hair pink. As I got older, wearing throwback clothing like a 1920’s flapper dress and a 1950’s poodle skirt were other favorites. I even dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz one year. Like actors do every day, Halloween allows us all to pretend to be someone else. We can live in a fantasy world full of superheroes, ghosts and princesses for 24 blissful hours and get free candy to boot. Yet, what is innocent revelry for most of us can be a painful stab at others as racial stereotypes can pop up in some people’s Halloween costumes. Students from Ohio University’s Students Teaching about Racism in Society (STARS) program pointed this out last week with a powerful, but simple message: “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume.” When Halloween Costumes Go too Far Two weeks ago, on October 20th Sarah Williams, the president of Ohio U’s STARS, posted a series of poster photos on her Tumblr blog encouraging people to think twice before donning racially offensive garb this holiday. The series of five posters are simple: a single member of each a minority group (blacks, Asians, Latinos, Muslims and Native Americans) holds a poster of someone wearing a racially offensive costume based on a stereotype. The posters then present the same simple message: “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume. This Is Not Who I Am, and This Is Not Okay.” The point of the campaign is to incite thoughtful reflection in choosing a Halloween costume this year. In a little over a week, the images have gone viral and Williams has been interviewed by ABC News, CNN, and several other media outlets. Clearly, the message resonates. Tackling Racism Among Students this Halloween In K-12 schools there is obviously a different set of rules when it comes to costume selection. Children making offensive choices can be sent home or forced to change. However, the attitudes that lead to these selections cannot be as easily disposed. These posters have been selling to groups across the country because the message they send is simple, sincere and necessary. As classroom teachers, we may also be able to use them as a vehicle to get students discussing the impact that stereotypes and racism have on the individual and the educational climate. Consider the following talking or journal writing points:
  • Do you belong to a group that is prone to stereotypes? If so, does that stereotype describe you?
  • How do you feel when people make assumptions about you based on a stereotype?
  • Is there a line between revelry and offense that we should recognize as a culture? Where is it?
  • What would you do if someone came into a Halloween party wearing one of those costumes? Would you speak up? Why or why not?
The problem that racial stereotypes present is that they are borne of ignorance and silence. By asking students to place themselves in the shoes of the stereotyped or to imagine their response to someone who wears one of these costumes, we enter into a conversation about tolerance, speaking up for one another and our shared social environment.



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