how can I tell my coworkers their Halloween costumes are racist?

Throwing this one out to the readers to weigh in on. A reader writes:

I wanted to ask your opinion of something since we are approaching Halloween. I’ve been at my current position for about 9 months and I just found out that we are having an office Halloween party next month where we are encouraged to come to work in costume for the day. I didn’t work here last year when they had the party and I’ve never worked anywhere that allows people to work in costume. Apparently, people in my office really get into the spirit and put together some really creative costumes. I’m pretty excited too because Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.

I heard that some people are planning on wearing costumes like “Indian” (American Indian), Geisha, Gypsy and that someone did blackface last year for his “Basketball Star” Costume. What is your opinion on alerting coworkers that these types of Halloween costumes are racist? I am African-American and would be pretty offended if someone expected me to praise their costume if it included blackface, but I’m not sure how to express that, or bring it to everyone’s attention or even who I should tell.

I work in a small office with no HR department, although we do have an office manager who handles most of the personnel tasks. In the same vein, is it okay to tell a coworker discreetly on Halloween that their costume is racist? A lot of my coworkers are older and/or not very sensitive to racial issues and may not even be aware.

Readers, what say you?

{ 817 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed

    I would talk to the office manager and explain the issue. Say that you’ve heard some people talk about dressing up in costumes that would cross the line into demeaning certain ethnic groups, and you’d appreciate her issuing some guidance in advance. You might mention that doing so would be in the company’s best interest for legal reasons as well, because you would hate to see the company be accused of creating a hostile work environment for something like this.

    Yes, you risk being branded the fun police, but I think it’s worth saying something. They really are opening themselves up to all kinds of EEO issues if they allow people to come in these costumes. You’d think most people would know better, but they clearly do not.

    Worst case, they say no costumes. No harm done. Adults don’t really need to be in costume in the workplace. Halloween in the workplace is an EEO nightmare: women showing up as sexy god-knows-what (seems to be the trend now), people doing what the OP describes, etc, conservative Christians getting offended by the tradition. It’s just not worth it.

    As an aside: Blackface? REALLY? Does ANYONE not know that it’s not ok? Come on now. Now, for things like geisha and native American, I can see how some might not realize that it’s offensive, but they should be told that dressing up as ethnic characters is definitely not ok.

    1. Julie

      I agree, too. I was writing my answer when there were zero responses, and by the time I finished, there were 31! So, anyway, even though I said you might want to say something to the offenders at the time they are talking about their costumes, I also really like Katie the Fed’s idea. I think I’ve been lucky to work in places where people would potentially have a conversation about this, and at the very least, they wouldn’t be jerks about it. OP knows his/her workplace and whether it’s a good idea to engage colleagues.

    2. Sophia

      Seriously. It’s infuriating when this happens. I worked some place where on Fridays people would spend the last hour in the conference room chatting and drinking wine. I was sitting next to two women (1 in her late 20s/early 30s; the other in her 40s) and the younger one talked about how her and her husband were going to be the Huxtables, complete with blackface. They laughed and laughed. I was in complete shock. I talked with the people I knew re what to do bc this is not the first time inappropriate things have occurred (my friend being told she looked like a ‘ghetto Latina’ bc of a belt she was wearing by the same younger woman; what seemed to us a pattern of not listening to us, the employees of color, but a young white woman who was our age and hired about the same time, getting heaps of praises, even for ideas like doing a secret Santa). We tried approaching HR rep, but he said nothing could be done bc the blackface comment happened during ‘wine time.’ This is in a women-related non profit in DC

      1. Katie the Fed

        “Wow, I hope nobody takes any pictures of you in those costumes, because people’s careers have been ruined over things like that!”

      2. Emily K

        Wait a minute, you mean as long as I’m drinking on the job I get a “get out of jail free” card for anything I say or do while drinking on the job?

      3. thenoiseinspace

        Wait, I’m confused – are you saying she shouldn’t have gotten praise for the secret Santa because it’s such a common, unoriginal idea, or is secret Santa considered offensive, too? I mean, I guess the title does imply Christmas, which has Christian roots (let’s save the debate about its current religious vs commercial status for another time), but other than the name, what about it could be offensive? In my experience, it’s always been just a secret office gift exchange, with no religious or racial connotation. I mean, I’ve never been subjected to sermons or religious gifts during it, and there are several different gift-giving holidays around that time of year from different cultures, so it’s not like it’s forcing one religious tradition on everyone in the office.

        1. Meg

          I think what Sophia was saying is that secret Santa is such a generic, unoriginal idea that the woman didn’t deserve so much praise for it, while employees of color were consistently ignored. Sophia, if I misunderstood, please correct me!

        2. Melissa

          The name “Secret Santa” is kind of exclusionary for people who don’t celebrate Christmas, but I think this commenter was simply saying that this young white woman gets lots of praise – even for silly ideas like this gift exchange, which is both unoriginal and non-work-related – while she and her other co-worker of color don’t get recognized for the actual legitimate things they do.

        3. Sophia

          Sorry, no re Secret Santa. That was just an example of something she promoted that wasn’t really relevant IMO to work (as opposed to ideas re social media, introducing other responsibilities etc) but was way over praised and they used that as an example of a team player.

        4. Not So NewReader

          Religious holiday aside, secret santa causes more hurt feelings and upset than it is worth. I don’t wanna share the horror stories.
          FWIW, yeah, I go to church and celebrate Christmas. I don’t like secret santas because I do not see it bringing out the best in people.

    3. BGirl81

      Oy vey, this issue was already covered on an episode of Designing Women in 1989. Either the OP’s coworker is a tone-deaf idiot or she is actually working with Suzanne Sugarbaker (in which case, I’m jealous).

      1. Nikki T

        I remember that episode, oh to be able to rant like Julia Sugarbaker! I don’t have the courage/personality and it probably wouldn’t go over well..

        Blackface? If I came to work to that, not sure how I would react, I’m speechless just thinking about having to listen to it..

      2. Sophia

        Sadly, I wasn’t working at Designing Women (and haven’t seen that episode!). Thankfully I’m no longer there, left to go to grad school, and will be defending my dissertation next summer so it happened 7 years ago?

        1. Ruffingit

          +2 for Suzanne Sugarbaker reference. That episode is the one I thought of immediately when I read the post. :)

    4. Melissa

      People really don’t know, or don’t care. I went out last Halloween (I’m black, and was with a group of black friends) and a group of (white) people showed up in a variety of blackface costumes that were supposed to be famous people. When we calmly explained how offensive this was, we got reactions ranging from dissolving into tears to angry yelling.

        1. ella

          It dates back to the early 20th century US. Black folk weren’t allowed to perform in theatres/vaudeville/etc, so in skits where a character of color was needed, a white actor would paint themselves with black facepaint. The skits/songs/performances, pretty much without exception, portrayed black people as objects of ridicule/mindless savages/gullible, stupid/clowns. It’s a horrendously offensive characature.

          1. Tragic Sandwich

            I’ve always had the impression that it started even earlier. There’s a scene in one of the Little House books in which Pa wears blackface as part of a performance. (Although the books were written in the 20th century and weren’t necessarily accurate.)

            Regardless, it’s something people should know not to do, and when they do it, they should be criticized. Unless they’re children, in which case their parents should be criticized.

            I know that when I was a child, I wore costumes that I wouldn’t let my daughter wear today. They weren’t meant maliciously, and they only involved clothing–not anything that was supposed to suggest a different skin tone–but there’s a better understanding today of what those costumes mean than there was even when I was a child.

    5. RedStateBlues

      ” Blackface? REALLY? Does ANYONE not know that it’s not ok? Come on now. Now, for things like geisha and native American, I can see how some might not realize that it’s offensive, but they should be told that dressing up as ethnic characters is definitely not ok.”

      This +1000

    6. khilde

      I didn’t know what ‘blackface’ was and had to go look it up. Didn’t know it had a name. Yuck.

      Changing one’s skin reminds me of the story “Black Like Me,” which is altogether fascinating.

      1. RubyJackson

        But what about how Tyra Banks just did that photo shoot where she went “whiteface,” pretending to be famous white models? Isn’t that a double standard?

        1. Natalie

          Not really. There’s a lot of good discussion below about the differences that you may find helpful to your understanding of this issue.

    7. Karol K

      I had to respond to the remark does ANYBODY know that “Black Face” is not ok and the answer is YES. Most educated people who understand the African american experience do and unfortunately alot of people don’t. I do remember references in high school that is was something negative and I really didnt pay much attention I guess because at the time I wasn’t effected by it. But I do know that in collage it was really brought to my attention how offensive it is to African american people today and I try to respect that. I think people may not be intentionally trying to be offensive but just maybe need educating.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackface

  2. Katy

    Maybe I’m just more accepting but I don’t really see any of these as “racist”. Now, if they start to behave in a way that is demeaning to the ethnicity that they are dressed as, I could understand your convern but if they are just portraying a character…what’s the problem?

    The Wayans brothers dressed in “white-face” for White Chicks and nobody claimed racism on that one. It’s dress up, a character, calm down.

    Guess it’s all in your perception and some people see racism in everything.

    1. AP

      “White Chicks” is listed as #14 on Complex’s list of the 50 Most Racist Movies, is on Business Insider’s list of the most racist movies of all time, and has been covered by “Yo is this racist?”

      1. some1

        And even if the racism of “white face” hadn’t been addressed before, reverse racism is such a false equivalency, imo. (I’m white, btw).

        1. Anonymous

          I personally don’t understand the term “reverse racism”. Racism is racism. White people are not the only people capable of racism.

            1. Katie the Fed

              I give it 10 minutes before someone invokes the ever-so-insightful argument about how unfair it is that one group can use the N-word but it’s the worst thing ever if another group does.

              Bottom line: people have said these actions make them uncomfortable. As a decent human being, it’s nice to respect the wishes of people who say they’re offended.

              1. Gilbey

                ” Bottom line: people have said these actions make them uncomfortable. As a decent human being, it’s nice to respect the wishes of people who say they’re offended.”

                Agreed 100%

                There are hundreds of different costumes someone can be. No need to pick one that will cause an issue.

                Is is that hard to choose something like a clown or a witch or a hummingbird?

                1. Lena

                  Although you might not be offended by someone dressing as a witch, it would be offensive to a practicing Wiccan. I’ll stretch it a little and note that coworkers suffering from coulrophobia would be uncomfortable around a clown costume and dressing as a hummingbird could easily trigger panic in those with orinthophobia, a fear of birds.

                  Since just about any costume you can think of could conceivably offend or distress someone, maybe it’s just better if places of employment skipped the costumes and concentrated on working.

                2. Deborah

                  Some people have clown phobias, Wiccans can be offended by the witch … there will always be something. The big question to me is why are adults dressing up in the workplace – it’s just not appropriate.

                3. Nikki T

                  In reply to below, there’s a big difference between someone being distressed by seeing someone dressed as a clown or a bird because of a phobia and someone being offended by blackface….

                4. FD

                  Not all Wiccans are offended by dressing as a costume witch, actually. Most I know are far more offended by the people who hand out pamphlets on Halloween about how Wiccans are demon-worshipers and torture cats. (Which does happen every year around here, alas.)

              2. thenoiseinspace

                I agree; however (on a slight tangent) the problem I’ve had is that people sometimes get offended by diametrically opposed things.

                For example, I used to use the term “African American.” But on three separate occasions, I had black people give me ear-blistering lectures about how offensive that term was, how they had never even been to Africa, how they didn’t relate to Africa at all, and how unfair it was that there had to be a “qualifier.” I was taken aback, but I completely agree – why should whites get to be “Americans,” but blacks have to be “African Americans?” They said it made them feel like they had a lesser status, and all three wanted to be referred to ask “black” instead. That makes sense, so of course I switched.

                Of course, the first time I used the word “black,” I got plenty of negative feedback, with people saying they preferred “African American.” Now I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to offend anybody – I just want to be able to answer the question “What does Jane look like?” in a way that makes sense and isn’t rude.

                It’s also interesting to note that most people in the first group were young (teenagers) and most in the second were middle-aged. It might be a generational preference. Anybody else have a similar experience? How did you resolve it without offending anybody?

                1. iseeshiny

                  Black is a pretty acceptable terminology to most people I’ve talked to, and if anyone asks you to use a different term, apologize and use that around them for then on.

                2. Melissa

                  It is kind of a generational preference, although that’s not the only thing that drives it. You could just ask people what they would prefer, but honestly neither term is offensive or rude. It’s unfair that there has to be a qualifier at all – but let’s be real, there IS a qualifer on us Americans of color and “she’s the African American secretary” is a perfectly acceptable way to tell someone who Jane is if she’s the only black secretary in the office.

                3. abby

                  I generally don’t use someone’s race or ethnicity to describe them. That pretty much avoids offending anyone.

                4. Jenna

                  I tend to leave off race as a descriptor. I was asked to describe what one of my doctors looked like. I described how well put-together she always is, from her hair to her shoes. She’s amazing, always. It’s accurate. If I were describing a white person, I would not normally say that they are white. You can use other features or talents to describe.
                  Race is a dangerous shortcut to use to describe someone. There’s too much associated with a label AND not all people of any race look alike anyhow. If you describe someone only by their race or perceived nationality, it can seem like that is all you are seeing, as well. If you are describing an individual, try to describe an individual person.

                5. thenoiseinspace

                  Abby – that’s what I’ve started doing too. If I’m talking to someone about a colleague they may not have met and I’m asked to describe the colleague, I’ll say “she has dark skin.” To my mind, that’s no different from saying “he has blond hair,” so hopefully that won’t offend anybody – just a descriptor, not a classification.

                6. Helen

                  In general, I’d just pick one – if people don’t like it, I’d apologize, ask them what they would prefer, then use what they tell me from then on out.

                  If you’re dealing with multiple people, it’s going to be a thing where you might just want to take note of who likes being called what (if it’s young/middle-aged, shouldn’t be too hard) – the best solution would be to ask yourself before you use either: do I really need to say black or African-American here? What you’ve started doing when it comes to describing appearances works well, in my experience.

                7. FD

                  Many people of Haitian origin do not care for being called African American, for example, in my experience. (Many people in Haiti have some African background if you go far back enough but it also has its own distinct culture and history, which is why most prefer not to be referred to that way from what I understand.)

                  I really don’t have a good solution. On one hand the very idea of sorting people into categories just based on skin tone is…problematic to me. And ‘black’ and ‘white’ do imply just appearance (note that President Obama is often called a black man, despite being of mixed race origin). And yet, to simply label someone ‘African’ regardless of how long their family has been in the country seems problematic too.

                  I think that what other commenters have said is probably the best. Pick the one that the people you interact with the most prefer and try to remember to change it for those who prefer another label. You’ll probably mess up sometimes, but making the effort is at least something.

                8. themmases

                  The best thing you can do is just ask. Many communities have internal differences of opinion on what they want to be called, and lots of individuals have personal histories with certain words or just preferences.

                  The first time I use a term for someone’s race in conversation with them, I try to remember to pause after that sentence and add “and please let me know if you prefer a different term” or “I hope that term is OK with you”.

                  I did this for an interview series I conducted with faculty members and grad students in American Indian Studies at my university (I am white). The questions, which we printed out for them, used “Native American” and “American Indian” interchangeably because our professor told us it was fine to do this in the context of her class. When I handed interviewees the sheet for the first time, I clarified that that was why it was written that way and asked them to let me know if they preferred one term over the other or wanted me to use the name of their Nation. I got a very positive response from the department on how I interviewed the people who helped me, so I definitely keep it in mind when I am discussing race with others now.

                9. Mander

                  I suppose this is why, in a way, the old-fashioned term “colored” was useful — it didn’t necessarily pertain to any specific ethnic group, just people with darker skin. When I moved to the UK I found that it is still used on occasion to refer to people of African, Caribbean, and Asian descent, and is not considered to be racist.

                10. Nichole

                  As a mixed race person, I dislike “African American” for all the reasons you describe and because my race experience is complicated, but I would never be rude enough to expect you to magically know that. What to “call” people of color is a complex issue, and there’s a lot of agreement on it. My preferred term is black (I use black American in formal writing when the situation calls for a race descriptor, since black in America has a set of shared experiences different from physically similar people in other places), so I don’t have an issue there. When someone else says “African American,” I take it in the spirit in which it was given. No one who uses that term intends to be offensive, they’re using the best term they have. I say use what makes you feel comfortable, restrict race qualifiers to relevant situations (and there are some relevant situations-assuming race should never be recognized disrespects the experiences of those who are impacted by race issues), and follow the Miss Manners rules for those who correct you by saying thank you and writing that person off as a twit.

                11. Stephanie

                  It’s going to vary person to person.

                  I’ve always thought African American was ridiculous because I have no real connection to Africa. Several generations of my family were slaves in Arkansas and Missouri. Unfortunately I can’t really trace my heritage back to any specific African country, so it just feels goofy claiming a (very, very) distant ancestry to this continent (not a specific country even) I have no close ties to. “African-American” denies that fact that a lot of black Americans’ ties to the Caribbean or South America.

                  Also, there’s just such a disconnect between African immigrants and black Americans, it feels a bit goofy using the phrase “African-American.”

          1. iseeshiny

            The idea behind that comes down to terminology – “racism” being prejudice + power. White people in the US have a lot of institutional and social power, vs. black people who have much less. People of an oppressed minority can be prejudiced and bigoted, but it doesn’t cause as much harm as the prejudice and bigotry by the people in power. There’s a lot of interesting reading about it on the internet if you care to look. I think the piece that really hit me in a way that I fnally really “got it” was: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html – White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It’s a fairly short read.

            But yeah, it all comes down to definition.

            1. Meg

              I love that essay as well. I read it as a freshman in college and I COMPLETELY missed the meaning, and instead spent the class discussion whining about how unfair it was to white people (it was an embarrassing time in my life). Now I recommend it to everyone.

                1. fposte

                  And I think that’s another reason to keep the discourse open rather than condemnatory. Not only have many of us been there, as the world changes we’ll find that where we are right now is a place we really want to leave behind in future.

            2. Windchime

              Thank you so much for sharing that essay. It’s sobering, and something I will read over again I am sure.

          2. Elizabeth

            “White people are not the only people capable of racism.”

            Very true, and “reverse racism” is still racism. However, I also think that whiteface and blackface are not equivalent (or other comparisons of racism against white people vs. racism against people of color). The important distinction is that white people have not, as a group, been systematically discriminated against and oppressed because of their skin color, whereas people of color have been and still are (though some progress has been made). It’s sort of like the teacher mocking the MVP of the football team vs. the teacher mocking the nerdy awkward kid that already is getting bullied – neither one is okay, but the second is even worse because it’s adding on to all the bullying the nerdy kid already experiences.

            1. TL

              +1. There are instances of racism against white people, but generally they’re simply instances while for other groups, it’s the overarching societal attitude.

              1. fposte

                Let’s be clear that we’re talking in the US, though. Racism is a funky beast, and it wears different coats in different places.

              2. Tina

                I realize I am an exception to the instances versus societal attitude situation you describe above, but I know others have had my experiences.

                I went to high school that was 95% black, with the rest of the population made up of whites, hispanics, and asians. I was bullied, ridiculed, physically assaulted, and had my belongings destroyed regularly because I was a white girl who “didn’t belong there” (their words not mine). I was a military brat who had grown up all over the world before moving to southern Georgia. For a long time I didn’t understand that treating me this way was these children’s revenge against society.

                Racism is racism despite the color of the victim’s skin. I realize that historically blacks have endured far more racism than any other group (in America anyway), but “reverse” racism should not be seen as understandable or acceptable regardless of the history driving it. Any and all forms of racism are contemptible.

            2. Cruella Da Boss

              I feel discriminated and oppressed whenever somone refers to “the ‘Frogs’ (those of French ancestry) that live up the street. ”

              Am I not also being mocked because of something that I can’t help?

              I would mention the blackface,(I would object to that too) but the other costumes sound like any other legitimate costume sold at any large retail party store.

              1. Melissa

                Party retail stores sell a lot of offensive things that probably shouldn’t be worn at all, let alone in the workplace.

              2. Helen

                I’m curious – how do you feel “discriminated against and oppressed,” exactly? Feeling mocked and feeling “discriminated against and oppressed” are not the same things – I would be very interested in knowing about your experience. Thanks!

            3. Kinky Kurly

              +1
              I am always amazed at people who think that the two are equivalent. They’re not due to the historical and sociopolitical implications of “blackface” and other race related situations that people think can be equally bantered about. Not cool.

          3. KellyK

            Really it’s not. The effect is *vastly* different because of the huge power differential between the two groups, and the fact that if you’re a minority, that discrimination is a daily occurrence. If you’re white, it’s rare to non-existent.

            Maybe a good analogy would be the difference between a single person stepping on your foot and being trampled by a crowd. The individual action of stepping on you is the same, but the difference in cumulative effect is the difference between a painful annoyance and a serious injury.

            1. Jamie

              This is one of the best analogies I’ve ever read to describe the difference.

              Appropriation is an issue I was completely unaware of growing up and there are still a lot of people out there who don’t get it. Sometimes pointing it out is all it takes. Sometimes it’s a bigger fight.

          4. Liz in a library

            But the thing is…there is not a significant history of white people being systematically oppressed because of the color of their skin. I’m sure someone has said this better elsewhere in the thread, but it truly is different. Racism against people of color who have been systematically abused, oppressed, and limited in every way imaginable by white society is a serious and ongoing issue with the weight of that oppression behind it. What lends weight to “reverse racism”?

    2. Lily

      My ethnicity is not a “costume” or “character” you get to dress up as for fun on a holiday. It’s who I am. That’s what is wrong with it.

    3. NBB

      “Guess it’s all in your perception and some people see racism in everything.”

      Uhhhh, are you serious? This makes me so sad.

      1. BCW

        It shouldn’t make you sad, its true. I have some black friends who whenever something doesn’t go their way and its a non-black person who is the reason, they jump to the fact that it must be racist. Now, there may be some times where thats a valid concern. But these people always remove themselves from the situation. Maybe their attitude sucked. But its easier for them to blame racism for every bad thing in their life.

    4. JR

      What-face isn’t a thing… There isn’t a long history of a specific race using white-face in a derogatory way. Whereas black-face is wildly offensive for that reason.

      There was a lot of debate about this when Tyra did whiteface for a photo-shoot. I won’t get all the reasons why it’s not the same, but you can Google it.

    5. Ask a Manager Post author

      Whoa. Saying that some people see racism in everything is pretty dismissive of valid concerns. It’s easy when you’re in a privileged demographic (as we both are) to not realize why some of these things are offensive, unless you take the time to educate yourself about them, and that’s really worth taking the time to do.

      Here’s a good explanation of why black-face is offensive:
      http://racismschool.tumblr.com/post/18422652908/black-face-vs-white-face-whats-the-difference

      1. khilde

        I’m just going to put this in somewhere, though I’m not exactly sure where it fits in the conversation…but I think someone can help me answer it.

        I’m genuninely intersted in hearing the other perspective. I am asking from a point of true curiousity, not trying to bait people into an argument or be stupid or yucky about it. I know this community likes to help educate others and I don’t know the other point of view so need some help:

        What’s the reponse when a white person says, “Yeah, but what about channels like BET and the magazine Ebony? We {white people} can’t do anything like that! We’d be called racist! And BET and Ebony purposely are not allowing Whites into their media.” My reply was that I think maybe white people have magazines like Glamour and Cosmo which probably have a larger represenation of white models/ads. The person’s reply was, “yeah but Glamour and Cosmo don’t exclusively use white models to the exclusion of all others!” And that’s just one particular example. I’ve heard that same basic argument often and never really know what the other side would be.

        I am just curious what another perspective is. I’m honestly asking in a “I dunno” scratching-my-head kind of way. Thanks.

        1. Natalie

          I similarly don’t mean this response to be snarky, but there are libraries worth of information on this question online. I would imagine you could google “why is BET ok?” and find some good articles explaining the historical and cultural factors than have led to the existence of organizations like BET, the United Negro College Fund, etc. I’m sure you’d have to sort through some bullshit Yahoo Answers posts, but that’s unfortunately true a lot of the time.

        2. fposte

          I think Natalie’s suggestion is a good one; this isn’t really a topic that can be usefully tackled in a blog comment.

          But :-). I will say that culture and history are not logical, and you can’t deal with questions about them outside of their context, which is what that kind of algebra question attempts to do. I’ll also say that over the course of my lifetime I’ve seen a higher percentage of white people in Ebony and on BET than I have black people in Glamour and Cosmo.

        3. Ask a Manager Post author

          A partial answer is that black people have been largely marginalized in mainstream media.

          And white people don’t need to have dedicated “white channels” or “white magazines,” both because (a) most — not all, but most — channels and magazines already function as that, by default, and (b) white people aren’t dealing with centuries of systematic oppression, violence, and exclusion. In that context, a “white channel” would send a very different message and serve a very different purpose than something like BET, which is designed to fill some of the void left by mainstream media.

          1. Meredith

            Exactly. This is why we don’t have white history month or Men’s history classes. The default/baseline for pretty much ever has been about whites and men… Now, it’s controversial whether or not we should separate out subcultures/races/ethnicities/genders and teach separate history or if we should just make all of history more inclusive, but the fact remains that white history month would be ridiculous. It’s called “the other 11 months that are not February.”

        4. ella

          We {white people} can’t do anything like that! We’d be called racist!

          Well, yeah. Because historically, when white people have tried to wall off or reserves spaces for ourselves (be they educational institutions or restaurants or neighborhoods or entertainment outlets or political parties), we’ve been really fucking racist about it and used those avenues to oppress people. So I think we’ve forfeited the right to “white spaces” for quite awhile, until we prove that we can have those spaces without using them to beat other people around the head (and until we can truly share the spaces that are not supposed to be whites only, ie, all of the institutions I listed above and more).

          Somewhere there are Buddhist monks who are sad because they can’t hang swastikas outside their monastaries in the US and Europe because the symbolism has been overtaken. It doesn’t matter if the Buddhists mean it in an entirely different way. The swastika means what it means, and what it means is bad. It can’t be used in a benign way.

          1. Katie the Fed

            oh, you wouldn’t want to live in this nice little white town?

            http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/09/20/224152990/this-tiny-town-is-trying-to-stop-neo-nazis-from-taking-over

            Gahh!

            I posted about the swastikas too. Last year I visited my Indian friend in Delhi at the end of Diwali, and she told me she rearranged the marigolds outside her door before I showed up. They had been in a swastika but she’d lived in the US and knew that Americans view it completely differently so she changed the arrangement before I came. It was really cute.

        5. Helen

          If you’re comfortable: “Yes, in this overwhelming sea of whiteness in media, black people have one channel, and one magazine. It’s not like this radical notion that non-white people are people, too, is gaining ground, or the growing economic realization that non-white people have money, too – money that companies want – have contributed to putting a few non-white models where a few white models used to be.

          (I mean, come on, magazines like Glamour and Cosmo would totally just hire white models if they wouldn’t get any criticism for it. They have done it in the past. The only difference is that the ones who are noticing and calling it out now have a more valued voice. //wait Hollywood does this pretty much all the time, except with actors//)

          It must be so painful to be excluded – OH WAIT except exclusion of a few white people – who can find jobs pretty much everywhere else in ways that black models can’t – doesn’t seem to come with any heavy economic burdens, unequal political representation/participation, and whatnot to the white population of America.”

          To clarify: the snark isn’t at you – it’s at any white person who tries to pull that.

        6. Nichole

          My husband (white) and I (mixed race black/white) got into an agree-to-disagree stalemate on this very issue. My perspective on it is that in addition to balancing the lack of opportunities and presence of black people in media, it’s a discussion on shared experiences. Being black in America (and many other places) is a distinct and complex culture. People hover all over the spectrum, and Ebony, BET, and similar outlets hang out somewhere in the middle of that spectrum and give a home to that experience. I am very dissimilar from the “Shenaynay” personality type, but I do experience being a person and being a woman differently because of my race. Redbook isn’t going to talk about explaining race issues to mixed race children because it is unlikely to be of interest to a large portion of their readership. With Ebony, that is flipped-I have a chance to read about things that matter to me because there is a publication that is targeted at people who share this part of my experience. I also read Redbook. As for why there isn’t a White Entertainment Television and why people would be so mad if there was-my answer that “they’re all White Entertainment” wasn’t good enough for my husband, so I assume it won’t be good enough for you either, but otherwise, I got nothing. The best I can say is that it’s ok to discuss white experiences in mainstream media and the assumption is that a large portion of the population would be interested, but we almost need a little warning and context before people feel comfortable bringing up issues specifically related to people of color. There’s no financial or logistical need to specifically target white people, therefore that targeting would be seen as adversarial in itself. Ooh, I’m going to go tell him that now.

        7. Kinky Kurly

          I think a good way to answer this would be to say those more mainstream channels that aren’t BET, and magazines that aren’t EBONY or similar, because of the vast representation of people who look like you, are white people doing exactly what you’re suggesting they’d be called racist for doing. In other words, white people are already doing the same thing they’re just calling it ABC, NBC, and US Weekly and People…

          These networks and magazines are created to provide opportunities for things related to our culture or race to be represented where they wouldn’t otherwise be due to the underrpesentation of p.o.c. in media and the lack of racially/ethnically/culturally relevant media.

          I’m no fan of BET btw but that’s another issue lol

      1. Anony1234

        Ignorant means unaware, uneducated, and untrained. Instead of saying I pity anyone who has to work with you, teach them, enlighten them. As Alison wrote below to someone who had name-called this commenter, teaching via compassion works much more than teaching via alienation.

        If this person has not been taught or has not been taught properly, then, like other commenters, let’s set it right. Then, if she leaves this and continues on the same original path, then that is when ignorance steps in. Take the high road and not make comments like this.

        1. Xay

          I hear what you are saying. However, as a member of a minority group who has spent a lot of my life teaching and educating and explaining, can I point out how tiring it is to expect everyone else to educate someone who can’t be bothered to educate themselves. I doubt this forum is the first place they have encountered the idea that dressing up like a racial or ethnic stereotype is offensive. Can we put some responsibility on the person holding the ignorant, uneducated view to educate themselves?

          1. Also Kara

            Amen. AMEN. It’s freakin’ exhausting, and really not my job as a black person; we live in an age in which reams and reams of information on literally any topic are available instantaneously. When does it become the ignorant person’s job to not be ignorant?

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Sure, they do bear the responsibility to educate themselves. And you don’t have to do it for them if you’d rather not. My point was only that name-calling isn’t generally effective (although it can certainly at times be satisfying in the moment).

          2. Broke Philosopher

            Thanks for this. I believe that if you are part of a dominant group, you benefit from that privilege and you have a responsibility to educate yourself about and fight against it. It’s not the responsibility of the oppressed group to always teach everyone who asks all about their experiences and explain why certain things are offensive.

          3. Jessa

            Exactly, it’s not really the job of the marginalised people to educate others. I mean really, I could find a zillion links but I don’t have the spoons right now. But the basic point is, and as a minority I agree with Xay, the problem with asking the them to educate you is it’s not their job. It’s … ah, lemme go find that link I need. It’ll be easier because someone else explained it better…

            Here you go the chapter on education from derailing for dummies –

            http://www.derailingfordummies.com/derail-using-education/

          4. Kinky Kurly

            I understand! In graduate school, I attended a program that had a HUGE focus on racial/ethnic/cultural/LGBTQ and any other historically marginalized groups. I was initially elated b/c my thoughts and feelings about race were finally being acknowledged, validated and given a platform. But then I realized I’d been duped because I (and other students from the aforementioned groups) spent the majority of the time teaching white people about self-awareness and how to effectively work with with p.o.c. (it was a counseling program). So in essence, my program was still for white people, not me. I’d been duped.

            Seriously, it is frustrating but I’d rather take the time to have one less person out there unintentionally committing microagressions. Also, I always highlight that there are some general things to follow, but that we are not a homogenous people and possess different thoughts and opinions.

          5. Jacey

            yes!

            I, as a black woman, am not obligated to “educate” you on why something is racist (or sexist). It gets tiring, and so many times, I have thoroughly explained why and was still shut down, then get berated when I express frustration. I shouldn’t have to explain over and over to people why certain words/actions dehumanize me.

            We live in the wonderful time of Google. Start there.

            And can I say as a educator, knowledge is more meaningful when you take ownership in your own learning?

    6. Erin

      It’s racist because it’s reducing an entire ethnic group to a stereotype and then using that stereotype as a “costume.” Honestly, I thought it was a little weird when my Korean co-worker wore a hanbok as her costume for our Halloween party.

      1. Chinook

        “I thought it was a little weird when my Korean co-worker wore a hanbok as her costume for our Halloween party.”

        Why? Halloween is a time to dress up differently from how we normally do in that setting. I have worn my kimono and my “cowboy duds” in places where they are not considered “normal” clothing and enjoyed the chance to wear clothign that expresses a different side of myself. I am not reducing an ethnic group to a sterotype but wearing items I actually own and have worn as non-costumes in other circumstances.

      2. Natalie

        I’m admittedly not super familiar with hanbok (had to google it) but since your co-worker who wore it is Korean this seems more like a white American dressing up like a flapper or pioneer or something from Americana.

        1. Erin

          Not really. This was an outfit she wore for formal celebrations in her culture. It would be more like me just wearing a c-tail dress and calling that a costume. I think it’s weird to wear your culture’s formal dress and say it’s a Halloween costume. If someone wore a sari as a Halloween costume (whatever their own heritage was) I would find that to be weird too.

          1. Ford MF

            And you should. Because: it’s Halloween, not “Cultural Anthropology Day”. People trying to get out of jail free on, say, a geisha costume, by referring to it as an indigenous cultural tradition are really just making excuses, not honoring indigenous cultures. Putting on the drag of someone else’s culture is almost never okay.

          2. Meredith

            Eh. I know people who have worn their wedding dresses or prom dresses for Halloween. I’ve never thought to be bothered by that.

          3. Katie the Fed

            Right. I know some white, non-Asian women who have rocked formal cheongsams or Saris, but not for a Halloween celebration. Just to a regular formal occasion.

          4. Anonymous

            There’s a cultural factor here too though. Halloween is not a thing in Korea and most other Asian countries. So to your Korean colleague, it really could just mean “a day where I put on something I wouldn’t normally wear.”

    7. Kerry

      Maybe I’m just more accepting

      I understand the temptation to see not speaking out against things like this as being ‘accepting’, but actions like this are offputting to non-white people. ‘Accepting’ racism and rejecting people who are affected by racism isn’t actually accepting.

        1. abankyteller

          +2
          Two of my coworkers (one is my manager even) use “jipped” as an expression all the time and I’m offended as a white woman who doesn’t even know any Romani people.

          1. Chinook

            “use “jipped” as an expression all the time and I’m offended as a white woman who doesn’t even know any Romani people.”

            I would be insulted if I knew that they knew what the term referred to. Often these phrases are picked up withotu understanding their original meaning. Did you ask them if they knew what “gypped” referred to?

            Here is another example: did you know that “hunk” is actually a slur derived from “bohunk” which is a slur against those of Ukranian/East European decsent? I am not insulted when I hear some gorgeous guy called a hunk but, if we are in the right circumstances, I will bring the double meaning to their attention.

            1. Elizabeth

              Huh. Do you have a source for that? Etymonline.com just says, “1813, ‘large piece cut off,’ possibly from West Flemish hunke (used of bread and meat), which is perhaps related to Dutch homp ‘lump, hump.’ Meaning ‘attractive, sexually appealing man’ is first attested 1945 in jive talk (in Australian slang, it is recorded from 1941).” I assumed it was a similar etymology to calling a person a “piece” (e.g. “a piece on the side”) – objectifying, but not necessarily rooted in demeaning a particular culture.

                1. Jessica (the celt)

                  For those who love etymology, here’s the info from the OED: “Hunk^3: A nickname applied, usually disparagingly, to immigrants to the USA from east-central Europe” (first known written use in the New York Herald).

                  I don’t think the studly version of “hunk” was derived from it (it isn’t listed in the OED, if so), but “honky” was (from hunk to hunky/hunkie to honky).

                  The “a large man or woman” version of “hunk” (hunk^1: from a large piece of) morphed a bit into “very masculine [or] stalwart male” from “hunk^1: bulk. A large body,” so I wonder if that’s where it came from originally to mean studly. Oh, wait! I found “in modern use, specifically a sexually attractive, ruggedly handsome man. (originally US)” under the derivatives section for main “hunk” (hunk^1, not hunk^2 or hunk^3) where the “large body” info is. Supposedly first used in 1966 at the University of South Dakota.

                  Can you tell I love etymology, too? ;~)

              1. Chinook

                “Do you have a source for that?”

                Ukranian grandmother of a friend’s fiance who was insulted that the friend kept calling her new fiance a hunk. It may be a regional slur from the prairies where the Ukranian imigrants were seen as outsiders until about 20 years ago.

                1. fposte

                  “Bohunk” was indeed used as a slur, but the connection to “hunk” as an approbation term is in your friend’s fiancé’s grandmother’s head.

            2. fposte

              That’s actually not a demonstrable etymology for “hunk.” It’s a folk construction that isn’t borne out.

              I agree that some people use terms without realizing their initial meanings are bigoted (“welshing” is the one that never seems to get mentioned, but that may have gone out of fashion with 20th century gangster moves) and that that doesn’t translate to their being bigots. But once you know that a term is about a denigrating meaning for an ethnic group still dealing with the legacy of oppression, there’s no reason to hang onto it, and if you do, then that really is a questionable choice.

            3. Sydney Bristow

              Really? I have a feeling that there are a lot of words or phrases like that that many people just picked up and don’t know where they come from. What are some others? I’d like to know in case I’ve been using any.

          2. Marissa

            Yeah, I only actually found out that gypped was a slur a few years ago when my friend told me. I had always just thought it was a word. I was horrified but very glad she told me so I could stop saying it. Sometimes people really do have no idea, but blackface??? How do you not know that’s not okay?

            1. Tekoa

              I have no idea what “blackface” is. None at all. This blog is the first place I’ve encountered the word. So not only am I clueless as to what blackface is, but I don’t know why its not okay. Can someone please explain this?

              1. Liz in a library

                Hi Tekoa, in the US at least, blackface usually refers to the practice of a white person painting his/her face black or brown, usually intended for “comic” effect. It has such a serious history here (I’m speaking as a white southerner) because of the history of race relations, and particularly because the blackface practice is so closely tied to minstrel show theatre performances. These shows would feature actors playing hugely stereotypical characters and wearing things like black shoe polish for face paint, exaggerated lips, and wool wigs. The result was the systematic degrading of a group of people for entertainment.

                I’ll see if I can find a good historical article, but that’s the basic idea.

                1. Tekoa

                  Holy crap! Yeah, blackface Halloween costume wouldn’t be cool.

                  I live in Alberta, Canada. Never encountered the reference before.

          3. Elizabeth West

            This is usually a teachable moment for me–I find that a lot of people don’t know where the expression came from. After they say it to me, they do. Same with saying “I jewed him down.”

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I’d be incredibly skeptical of someone who said they didn’t realize that “jewed him down” was connected to Jews. Do you really find that people don’t know that? Maybe I’m more naive than I realized.

                1. fposte

                  It got marginalized in the US faster than in the UK–I heard in the UK as late as the 1980s. I think a lot of people under 30 in the US won’t ever have heard it.

              1. Anonymous

                I remember a friend telling me “Jewed him down” was offensive. I was in my teens, and I was genuinely surprised. Then again, I had never seen it in print before. It never occurred to me before that moment that it was spelled “Jewed” as in “Jew.” :) Figured it was “jood” or something like that. After all, it’s a verb, and the people are a noun. There are many words that sound the same and have so relation. Like titmouse and mouse.

                1. Pussyfooter

                  I think a lot of us find out things like this in our teens or 20’s. After all, every once in a while I still get embarrassed when I learn something “everyone” else seemed to already know–I’m 41, still learning. Sometimes it’s little things about how the phone works, sometimes it’s taboo things like racist issues or death.

              2. Z

                My dad grew up thinking it was spelled joo. “They’re jooin’ him down.” He had no idea that it was related to a religion.
                I would say that someone who had seen it written would understand it, just as someone who learned that the word is spelled “gypped” and not “jipped” might have a light bulb go on, but as long as you just know the word phonetically (and live in an area with few if any Jewish people), I think it’s simple enough not to know what it’s referring to.

              3. Chinook

                “I’d be incredibly skeptical of someone who said they didn’t realize that “jewed him down” was connected to Jews.”

                Depending on your local dialect, “chewed” and “jewed” can sound very similair and I thoguht it was “chewed him down” until someone pointed it out to me.

              4. Kara

                “Gypped” is another racist phrase that gets used to describe someone who may have cheated or stolen from another, without one knowing the original meaning.

                1. Tekoa

                  Jipped ….is actually spelled gypped….and its a racist phrase….?

                  ……

                  I’m getting a sinking feeling of horror here.

                2. Kara

                  Tekoa – Yes, “Gypped” or “Gyp” refers to the nomadic Gypsies, or Roma peoples. It is a racial slur that infers this culture were thieves or cons. Saying someone “Gypped” you is just as bad as saying someone “Jewed” you down, or is an “Indian giver.”

                3. Plynn

                  I didn’t find out about “gypped” until I was in my 30s. I was horrified and pretty defensive to the person that told me – for about 12 seconds. Then I realized that the connection was pretty clear as soon as you thought about it. So I never used it again.

                  Not knowing that something is hurtful or based in stereotypes doesn’t make you racist – but refusing to admit a mistake or change your behavior lest you be inconvenienced in the slightest will get you most of the way there.

                  Of course, the “not knowing” defense doesn’t apply to wearing blackface. Because that’s just stupid and racist.

                4. Mary

                  Gee am I embarrassed- I am in my mid 50s and until I saw this, I never knew gypped was racist or associated with gypsies. Another faux pas of mine, I was a gypsy for Halloween (many years ago). Had no idea that was racist either. Just liked wearing the baubles and flowing skirts. Also a pretty inexpensive costume to put together.

              5. Diane

                Growing up, I thought it was “chewed him down,” so I never realized the origin until I saw it in print.

        2. Kerry

          Well put – I was thinking mostly of the effect on people stereotyped in the “costumes”, but you’re absolutely right (on both parts, including “thank god”!).

        1. Tekoa

          @ Kara. I had no idea jipped (gypped) was a racial slur in reference to nomadic gypsies/people of Romania. Its been part of my vocabulary since I was a kid (insert feeling of horror). I thought it was spelled jipped and meant “I’ve been fooled/tricked.” Needless to say I will strive to never utter gypped again. O_o

          I’ve had a few 50ish year old relatives use the phrase “Indian giver.” When asked for a definition, I was told it meant “a person giving a gift/or useless item and then demanding it back. Such as white people did with the Indians.” I found the phrase uncomfortable and never used it.

          1. Kara

            Agreed. I’m not a fan of using the word “Indian” in general, unless it refers to an actual person from India, and using the term “Indian giver” just seems wrong to me. I’ve heard it since I was a kid, but I was never a fan of the phrase. Or gypped, which I didn’t understand the meaning of until an episode of House a few years ago. Funny where you can learn this stuff.

          2. CatB (in RO)

            On a side note (since my country appeared here): the gypsy people’s formal name is Roma (sometimes spelled Rroma).

            “Romania” is a small Easten European country. Though there is a significant Roma minority here, there is actually no link whatsoever between Roma people and Romania as a state, but it’s a widespread confusion.

            1. Cali

              Actually, if i understand it correctly not all Gypsy people are Roma- though feel free to correct me.
              On another track- lived in an Eastern European country for a time and saw a lot of poverty among some of the city’s Roma population. For a time it bothered me when, after returning stateside people kept dressing up in stereotypical gypsy clothes and glorifying what stereotypes told them was the gypsy life- which contrasted sharply with the beggar girl who waited for me outside church every week because she knew i was an easy mark for buying food, and once hid behind me on the street because a lady was throwing stones at hurt. *steps down off soapbox (and hopes she hasn’t unwittingly offended anyone buy it-not saying all Roma or Gypsy people live in poverty, just that some do face oppression and poverty)

    8. al

      it’s pretty gross to refer to yourself as “more accepting” when you mean care less about how other people feel. you aren’t more accepting of anyone, you are just ok with racism.

    9. Anonymous

      I don’t think dressing as Pocahontas is racist, i think its more historical except when its sexy Pocahontas does Sioux City. Ok, that comment was racist, but more about making a point at how stupid most costumes are these days to just be an excuse to get half naked. Black face is bad, and shouldn’t be condoned at all. but i see the same argument about war paint for native americans. Its all racist then, even the zombie costumes. I think I will be a banana this year …

      1. businesslady

        you’re perfectly entitled to your opinion that XYZ costume isn’t racist, but I can guarantee you that many Native/Indigenous/American Indian people find the concept of a white person dressing up as Pocahontas (or any other similar character) to be offensive. & to me–especially in a workplace–the discussion just ends there.

        I question someone’s priorities in life if they’re so deeply invested in a particular costume that it trumps the lived experiences of their fellow human beings. & no, portraying a zombie isn’t racist (not sure why you threw that in there), & neither is hippie, robot, fairy, baseball player (or any other sports costume for that matter, assuming you don’t inexplicably change your skin color as part of it), or a historical figure or famous person who’s the same general race/ethnicity/appearance as you.

        it’s a way of injecting fun into the workplace. don’t ruin it because you have some BS “reverse racism” agenda about how unjust it is that you can’t use it as an excuse to be offensive.

        1. Katie the Fed

          Love this:

          “I question someone’s priorities in life if they’re so deeply invested in a particular costume that it trumps the lived experiences of their fellow human beings”

          1. fposte

            Seconded. And that’s the part of the argument I have a hard time getting–what does it hurt me to go as a pony or a harmonica or the Great Chain of Being instead the thing that disturbed somebody? What loss have I suffered?

              1. fposte

                It was real. A group of my fellow grad students dressed as bees and paper-chained themselves together. Truly awesome.

                1. Julie

                  When I was in college, some friends and I dressed up as a box of crayons. We each picked a color and wore head to toe that color. I was purple, and I loved that costume!

                2. So Very Anonymous

                  In 1991 I went to a Berlin-Wall-coming-down themed Halloween party held by one of my graduate professors. I was a Red Scare: wore all red and a sign around my neck that said “Boo!” My favorite was the guy who spray-painted a shower curtain grey and went as The Iron Curtain.

        2. Sophia

          Plus, Native Americans are a real, current peoples with many different traditions, cultures etc. They are not historic, neither is the continued racism against them and the problems they face (see Cleveland Indians and Native protests, a talking head on a news show saying if Indians want to get better, they should just stop drinking, the environmental rights and conflicts people living on reservations have the gov’t etc)

        3. Maya B.

          The only issue I have with this is sometimes people don’t share some of the physical characteristics of their ethnic group. I’m biracial (half Caucasian, half African American but I look more Hispanic than either one) and have occasionally dressed as African American historical figures. Should I have to carry around a picture of my African American mother to prove I have the “right” to dress as a young Marian Anderson?
          I’m not trying to be snarky or anything. I’m honestly curious.

          1. Maya B.

            I feel like I should also add that I am an elementary school teacher. When I dress up as a historical figure for Halloween I teach a lesson about that person.

            1. iseeshiny

              I think whatever historical costume you dress up as is fine as long as you’re not adding to the caricature of an entire group rather than celebrating a cool person. The “basketball star” in the OP’s letter could have dressed inoffensively as a specific basketball player (all he needs is a jersey with a name on it) and skipped the face paint and there would be no issue. (White dude dressed a Michael Jordan? Whatever, maybe he’s his hero. White dude dressed as Generic Black Athlete? Gross.) Anyway, I think you’re fine.

              1. Anon

                +1. Specific person is fine (although I wouldn’t change your skin color regardless). Ethnic stereotype is not.

              2. Natalie

                And really, if you’re dressing up as a specific sports figure you have a perfect way to tell everyone who you are – a freaking jersey with the person’s name on it!

                1. Regular Gone Anon

                  Sensitive subject; going anonymous for comments although I’m a regular commenter.

                  White guy dressing in a Jordan jersey on halloween doesn’t mean he’s dressing as Jordan. If his intent was to dress up like Mike, you don’t want to be confused for the average white fan wearing a jersey like any other day of the year. There’s nothing “costumey” about it.

                  I don’t see it offensive for someone to portray an actual person that has a different skintone by using makeup to alter the color of the skin. True “Blackface” – with BLACK paint, or dark brown paint, and not a foundation or makeup made to look like a REAL darker skinned person – is offensive. White guy dressing up as Michael Jordan is not.

                2. Natalie

                  Fine, then carry a basketball and a golf club or something. I don’t think darkening one’s skin is remotely necessary or wise.

                3. iseeshiny

                  It’s interesting how you feel a need to be anonymous in order to tell people that blackface is okay. Although with an argument that someone on Halloween is so worried that they’re going to be mistaken for dressing up as a fan rather than as the man is a good reason to wear blackface is pretty embarrassing, especially if such a mistake is made it can be rectified without engaging in racist practices.

                  “Hey, what are you dressed as? A Bulls fan?”
                  “No, man, I’m Michael Jordan.”

                4. KellyK

                  Regular Gone Anon, I think that wearing the whole athletic get-up (sneakers, shorts *and* the jersey) and carry a basketball, people will figure it out.

                  I don’t think trying to fake the physical characteristics of another person is necessary for a Halloween costume. I mean, if a guy who’s 5’3 dons a top hat and a fake beard, and a copy of the Gettysburg address, I’m not going to be confused about his portrayal of Lincoln unless he adds stilts.

                5. Regular Gone Anon

                  KellyK:

                  1800s fashion is not enough to portray Abe Lincoln without distinguishing characteristics (like the beard and gettysburg address and attempt to actually LOOK like Lincoln). Donning a beard without being married is offensive to local cultures in my region. Should we ban halloween beards for Abe Lincoln?

                6. Natalie

                  “Donning a beard without being married is offensive to local cultures in my region. Should we ban halloween beards for Abe Lincoln?”

                  We’re not talking about women wearing pants or people shaving or jewelry or any number of things that are present in multiple cultures but considered unacceptable in a few. We’re talking about participating in blackface, and ugly tradition in the United States, deeply connected to one of the most violent times in our nation’s history.

                  If you are actually interested in educating yourself, there’s a wealth of information at your fingertips about why people find blackface offensive. If you are just looking to justify some past behavior of yours, I don’t think you’re going to find an understanding audience here.

                7. KellyK

                  Regular Gone Anon, there’s a *huge* difference between a fake beard and blackface, which Natalie already described.

                  *If* in your specific area, you know that something would be offensive to a specific culture you actually interact with, then, it would be a courtesy to not wear the costume. If that’s a culture that exists at your workplace, it might be reasonable for your employer to ban those costumes.

                  But there’s no comparison between something that *is* offensive and derogatory toward a huge group of people and something that *might* be offensive to a group that you may or may not encounter.

          2. Chinook

            “Should I have to carry around a picture of my African American mother to prove I have the “right” to dress as a young Marian Anderson?’

            Ditto – do I need to into a long geneological explanation for why I am wearing mukluks and a beaded jacket or is the fact that they belogn to my family good enough?

            (and for those keeping track, yes this is ethnic outfit #3. Let’s just say that my Tickle Trunk is full of some great, real-life outfits that can only be worn on Halloween or very specific cultural holidays or volunteer circumstances)

          3. Xay

            If you’re dressing up for educational purposes, that’s different. That said, if you paint yourself darker and rouge your lips for a lesson about the origins of mammy imagery and Aunt Jemima, expect some parent phone calls.

          4. Emily K

            It’s tough. I think I tend to agree it’d be OK to dress up as a specific person of another ethnicity, but I’d hope the costume would be more than just making yourself look like another ethnicity and actually be constructed around details specific to that person. I’ve known people to shave their heads, dye their hair, or wear a wig when going as a specific person of their ethnicity but with a different hair type. If a person really admires or idolizes someone who happens to be a different race, is that costume just off-limits to them because they’re the wrong race to dress up as that person? Can black icons only be emulated by blacks and Asian icons only by Asians and Indians only by Indians? I guess I don’t really feel qualified to have an opinion on this seeing as I am white and haven’t experienced being on the other side, but it seems like a tough gray area when it comes to dressing up as specific people (in contrast to just fetishizing a generic representation of someone else’s culture/race).

            1. Xay

              But the thing is, the average costume at a Halloween store is not paying homage to a culture or a person. Believe it or not, most people can tell the difference between someone who is dressed in vintage 30s wear to honor Billie Holliday and someone who painted themself brown and threw on an Afro wig and some costume jewelry to look like a rapper. I don’t understand why people are pretending these situations are the same.

              1. Emily K

                I’m certainly not. I was actually specifically trying to distinguish between the two as very different. One is clearly unacceptable under any circumstances. The other seems like it might be OK, but I admit I’m uncertain about it.

              2. Nancie

                The thing is — some people don’t buy Halloween store outfits. They spend a lot of time researching what the person wore, and painstakingly recreating the outfit.

                Halloween is just an excuse for costume and historical nerds to go nuts.

                1. Decius

                  I have to agree there’s a difference between costuming and a “racist costume” and it is in the degree of effort and intent. Dressing as a “generic Indian” is racist – going as Tanaghrisson the Half King or, in a slightly broader sense, “Seneca warrior of the 1740s” shows both genuine knowledge and research and should not be racist.

                  If a white person was going as Michael Jordan I’d avoid the blackface because “blackface” itself is associated with minstrel shows and IS racist. On the other hand, if you want to go as an “Irish Miner of the 1880s” you might need blackface!

          5. Melissa

            Anybody can dress as Marian Anderson. Just don’t paint your face to match her skin tone.

            I had this conversation with the girl who showed up as a blackface Nicki Minaj last year. You’re Nicki Minaj. Instantly identifiable. You do not have to paint your face brown for us to know who you are.

            1. Regular Gone Anon

              As a white female, I dressed as Nicki Minaj last year for a party. I used brown foundation on my arms and face and neck. Without the makeup, I looked like I was going to a rave or an 80s party. If fact, it was my best friend, who is black, who said, “You’d look like Nicki Minaj if you had brown skin.” At a party that was predominantly black, the costume went over well with no objections. There weren’t any objects from the white guy who dressed as lil wayne either.

              And my black friend “whitefaced” it and went as Ke$ha that year. It all depends on the context. There was no derogatory intent behind my costume choice, and people understood it was 1. HALLOWEEN, 2. Not intented to punish or offend or mock a particular ethnicity.

              1. Ford MF

                Surely you must understand that “no one confronted me” is not the same thing as “it wasn’t racist”.

                1. Regular Gone Anon

                  I’m pretty sure I understand that a high five and “great costume” meant that I didn’t offend. Unless you regularly high five and tell people great job when you really despise it? My social norms must be way off then.

                2. Brenda

                  Yeah, I’m sure that most people would rather act like they’re cool with it than get into a confrontation about it at a party, where everyone just wants to have a good time. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some raised eyebrows and comments made behind your back, girl.

                  But we’re going to tell you straight up what we think in here. You can count on that. So if you were thinking about going as Kelly Rowland this year, maybe go with Demi Lovato instead. #protip

              2. KimmieSue

                Regular Gone Anon – Sounds like a costume like this at a party with friends (many who maybe like-minded as you) didn’t appear to offend others. If you came to a party that I attended with black paint on your body, I’d be hugely offended. I don’t think it’s ever okay, at a party, on the street and especially at work.

              3. Anonymous

                Your intent doesn’t mean anything to anybody. You’re participating in a racist charactiture. If nobody felt safe enough to ask you about it in front of a group of people, that’s not their fault. If people celebrated your actions, it was because they’re either oblivious or engage in that kind of racist behaviour themselves.

                You’re hiding behind your privilege by not using your regular username for this. What would people think if they saw your real name? Some part of you deep down is aware of how awful your actions are, but you’re refusing to own up to it.

          6. Nancie

            I would tend to go with the general consensus among cosplayers. As long as your costume is accurate and you aren’t stooping to blackface, fake tans, and the like: go for it.

          7. Laufey

            I think part of the difference is – and correct me if I’m wrong, internet – is dressing up a specific person vs dressing up a culture. If a person dressed up as Sacagawea (as in, actually got the right clothing/accessories/hair for the culture and period she lived in), I feel that would be less offensive than just dressing up as “generic stereotypical Native American woman” or “generic stereotypical native American Chief” if you’re male. Dressing up specifically as Michael Jordan (sans blackface, obviously) is okay, but stereotyping an entire race as “Generic Basketball Star” is offensive. I feel that dressing up as Marian Anderson (and using it for educational purposes) is fine.

            1. Ford MF

              Eh, the “specific person” exemption doesn’t really work. Consider how many deeply racist Lil Wayne costumes that have been – and will be – worn for Halloween.

        4. BCW

          Honest question though. Lets say your daughters favorite movie is Mulan, Pocohontas, or the Princess and the Frog. Are you saying that its racist for anyone but an Asian, Native American, or Black girl respectively to dress as those characters? Thats just as ridiculous as saying only a blond white girl can be cinderella or a red head can be Ariel.

          1. Ford MF

            Implying that an adult ethical obligation is somewhat silly because it seems absurd when applied to small children seems like a disingenuous way to say you don’t think the ethical obligation is all that big a deal really.

            Also as a parent you maybe want to be at least a little critical with talking to your kids about stuff like that? (Especially if you’re letting them watch stuff with kind of messed up messages about race and gender, like Disney movies.)

            1. BCW

              Maybe it wasn’t worded right. I’m not saying that the kid is racist clearly, but would you judge a parent as that they are encouraging racism. I think ethical obligations are important, I just don’t think EVERYTHING is just as big of a deal as its made out to be and unethical.

          2. Forrest

            Meh, I don’t think kids are doing their makeup so their eyes are slanted, making their skin darker or doing sterotypes.

            They’re running around in a cheap but over priced dress acting like princesses, which are pretty much all the same.

            1. Pussyfooter

              But Forrest,
              Isn’t doing this as kids the reason lots of us aren’t aware it might be a problem as adults? Seriously, I’m a costume nut who likes to dress up–some of us never lose that basic desire to play dress up. At what age does it magically become racist for some costumes but not others?

              1. Forrest

                Whelp, in that view, kids shouldn’t be doing it either.

                What, did you expect me to be all “OMG You’re right! Its totally ok for you to do something racist because you don’t know better.”

                Except you do. Because you’re an adult.

        5. PurpleChucks

          “I question someone’s priorities in life if they’re so deeply invested in a particular costume that it trumps the lived experiences of their fellow human beings”

          While I want to wholeheartedly agree with this, the problem is that racism and privilege are so pervasive that it never occurs to the offender to consider the lived experiences of others–because racism and privilege means that they never have to.

      2. Katie the Fed

        It’s reducing Native Americans to a generic caricature of what is a complex culture that has been fairly obliterated. It’s a CULTURE. Do you really not get how it’s completely distinct from dressing up as a zombie?

        1. Chinook

          “It’s reducing Native Americans to a generic caricature of what is a complex culture that has been fairly obliterated. It’s a CULTURE.”

          Actually, it is many cultures, some of which have not been obliterated and are making a come back. I figure that, if you can explain the symbolism and design of the outfit you are wearing and which tribe it belongs to, you should be able to wear it).

          1. Katie the Fed

            unless you’re going to give a long explanation or hand out a disclaimer to everyone you see, I’d assume that many people will assume you’re being ignorant.

            Seems easier to just dress up as a horse or something.

          2. QualityControlFreak

            Thanks, Chinook.

            We are not one static, historical culture. We are many vibrantly alive cultures. Even historically, my tribe’s traditional dress bore zero resemblance to the stereotypical “Indian” costume one might find in a costume shop.

            BTW, I would love to see your ethnic outfits!

      3. Liz T

        Zombies are not only not real, they’re also not an oppressed group being reduced to a costume by the people who’ve benefited from said oppression.

        1. Rana

          That’s very well put. It’s not simply that one group of people is treating another as fodder for costume ideas; it’s that there’s a power imbalance between the two, so it carries an undertone of superiority and mocking on the part of the appropriators, whether they realize it or not.

          The not so subtle message is that it’s not enough that the oppressed group has to deal with the aftermath and present effects of systematic oppression; they have to watch members of the group benefiting from that oppression playing at being them, in caricatured fashion, knowing that there is little they can do about it.

          It’s rubbing people’s noses in their oppression, and one’s own privilege, basically, and calling it “fun” or “play” or something equally benign (which it is not).

      4. Sarah

        War paint and tribal feathers have deep and sacred cultural significance to tribes. White people (who throughout their history of interaction oppress and disenfranchise native Americas) making a mockery of this is incredibly racist, demeaning and oppressive. Please, please, we entreat you think before you act. Zombie costumes have nothing to do with the oppression of a group of people.

    10. Katie the Fed

      it’s not a character. It’s an ethnic/racial group. It’s not ok to appropriate characteristics of another ethnic/racial group (who have long been marginalized and discriminated against) for entertainment.

      I’m legitimately amazed that people don’t understand that, or the minstrel history of blackface.

      1. Regular Gone Anon

        Let’s ban all human costumes then. Let’s make it a law that you can only dress up as a zombie or a horse.

        1. Katie the Fed

          well, we were talking about a workplace where management can set standards, but sure let’s go with full hyperbole.

          The great thing about freedom of expression is that you can say or do lots of things, like wear blackface or tweet about how the new Miss America should be running a 7-11 or she looks like she’s a member of al Qaeda. And other people with freedom of expression can judge and shun you and think you’re a terrible person they want nothing to do with.

            1. Katie the Fed

              Good news – you still have the right to wear these costumes.

              Bad news – other people will probably find you ignorant/offensive.

              1. Esra

                A+ Katie. It really needs to be reiterated more often that sure, you can be offensive, but other people can also be offended and call you out on it.

          1. Amy

            YES YES YES @Katie The Fed…This!

            I have explained that SO many times to people I’ve dealt with when they try and say something along the lines of ‘I have free speech so why are you criticizing me for being a bully?’

            freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences

    11. LisaD

      What makes you think that being accepting of racism makes you “more accepting?”

      When you accept racists, you’re automatically doing the OPPOSITE of accepting everyone–including overprivileged white people like myself–who doesn’t think racism is OK. Racists are a minority, so your willingness to “accept” their use of racist stereotypes for costumes means you’re only “accepting” of one tiny, mean, nasty special interest group. That doesn’t make you more accepting, you smug twit.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Hey, no name-calling please. I’d like to keep this civil. (And there’s far more chance of educating people if you do it in a compassionate way than if you alienate them!)

        1. LisaD

          I dunno, I don’t really agree with that argument in terms of issues of people using their implicit power to silence others, e.g., silencing OP by suggesting that she is just one of those people who “see racism in everything.” I think there’s a little TOO much pressure to be nice and “educate” people who are actively REFUSING to be educated. I mean, I grew up in a 98% white county (literally, actually it’s 98.2%) and I managed to learn by second grade that blackface is racist. It’s this dismissive, racism-accepting person’s job to educate HERSELF, not everyone else’s job to be nice to her about her ignorance and “educate” her. She’s actively resisting the education that a huge swathe of society has offered her since childhood. She should try opening a book sometime if she wants education. Since she hasn’t, she clearly doesn’t.

          That being said, your blog, your rules, I won’t call names. However, I do suggest examining whether or not that particular argument about attacking casual racism is really useful to society. I think “be nice to the racists” is pretty frequently used to silence minorities. (I’m white, but I see it used against people who try to share their personal experiences with racism often.)

          1. Liz T

            I think she’s objecting specifically to your last sentence. If you’d left that off, your comment would’ve not only been fine by blog rules (I think), it would’ve been a lot more effective.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Yes, I was referring to the use of “you smug twit.”

              In my experience, if you attack people (even for something they deserve to be attacked for), they dig their heels in to dismiss you and defend their position. If you’re kind and reasonable about it, they’re much more likely to come around. And that makes sense — it’s much easier for someone to come around to thinking, “Oh, I didn’t realize some people look at it that way” than to think, “Why, yes, I guess I am a horrible person.”

                1. Liz T

                  If you can’t watch the video, here’s the bottom line:

                  “When somebody picks my pocket, I’m not gonna be chasing him down so I can figure out whether he feels like he’s a thief deep down in his heart, I’m gonna be chasing him down so I can get my wallet back. I don’t care what he *is,* but I need to hold him accountable for what he *did.* And that’s how we need to approach these conversations about race: treat them like they took your wallet and focus on the part that matters–holding each person accountable for the impact of their words and actions.”

                2. Also Kara

                  I promote this like it’s my actual job. I think I posted it on this blog once. Jay Smooth is brilliant.

              1. Anonymous

                Your blog, absolutely your rules, and disallowing name-calling makes perfect sense, but your ‘explanation’ of why is an example of being a poor ally. Please read up about “tone argument” and why it’s problematic in discussions of race and other privileges.

          2. TL

            Hey, now, I grew up in a place that was 50% white (but probably less than 1% African American) and I didn’t know blackface was a) something people did/had done or b) offensive until I got to college.

            I was completely ignorant of most African American stereotypes until college, actually, until a suite mate found out I didn’t know that liking fried chicken was a stereotype and started walking me through them.

            It wasn’t willful ignorance-I wasn’t doing anything offensive- it was just a complete lack of exposure (and not realizing how underexposed I was until people started telling me.)

            1. Emily K

              I had a similar experience. I grew up in a fairly wealthy and racially diverse suburb but with a low black population (about 40% white/30% Asian/15% black/15% mixed or other). The kind of well-off liberal community where overt racism is not socially acceptable. Growing up I witnessed a lot of classist prejudice and stereotypes against poor and/or uneducated people, but had very little exposure to overt racism or racial stereotypes. I didn’t encounter that until I moved to a majority black city for college. To this day I can’t tell the difference between different types of white people (I’m white), the way other people can apparently distinguish Jewish whites from Anglo whites from French whites from Spanish whites…I literally can’t pick out the characteristics that distinguish these subgroups. Either I have mild facial blindness or during the time when the part of my brain that is supposed to analyze that was forming the differences were never pointed out to me, the way some languages are difficult to learn later in life because your brain missed its chance to learn how to distinguish between two sounds that are distinct in the foreign tongue but sound identical to your ears.

              1. Liz T

                Anyone who tells you they can identify Jews or Brits or French people just by looking at them is totally full of it.

                The Jewish thing is more prevalent (which is confirmation bias–we remember the Jews who “look Jewish,” but forget the Jews who don’t, and forget the non-Jews who do). I’ve never even heard anyone distinguish visually between Europeans.

                1. fposte

                  I’ve had my genome mapped, and it’s fascinating to see how little genetic clarity there is on regional origin. We are a deeply indiscriminate species :-).

                2. TheSnarkyB

                  This is actually a thing, if you broaden it out a bit. It is certainly possible to distinguish between groups of white people, and I say this as a black person. If someone is within a certain # of generations from their non-American-born ancestors, you can certainly tell the difference between a Greek-American and an Italian-American and a Swedish-American and an Irish-American. Obviously, if someone looks super far from the typical (_____) fill in blank look, you’d probably guess wrong. But there is certainly no guaranteed homogeneity of appearance once a group is deemed “white.”

                3. Liz T

                  Those borders went back and forth for MILLENIA, and everyone invaded each other and intermarried all the time. Unless we’re from Scandinavia (like, born there), we whities are a bunch of mutts.

                4. Miss Displaced

                  Oh Liz, come on, you seriously never heard anyone distinguish visually between Europeans?

                  It was common where I grew up in a very working class area… (and I cringe here) with the common ones being Germans, Jews, Italians, Irish, and (more cringe) Polaks (it was the 70’s).

                5. Liz T

                  Miss Displaced,

                  No, I’ve never heard anything about how you can tell by looking from someone if they’re from France or England. If you know what the stereotypes are, please inform me.

                6. Kerry

                  The Jewish thing is more prevalent (which is confirmation bias–we remember the Jews who “look Jewish,” but forget the Jews who don’t, and forget the non-Jews who do)

                  I have a friend (an actual friend, not a this-is-really-me friend) with a coworker who, on finding out she was Jewish, exclaimed “I thought so! I’ve always thought you look Jewish!” What my friend didn’t mention (and felt uncomfortable saying after that) is that she wasn’t born Jewish, she converted a few years ago.

                7. Anonymous

                  Why do you think they’re full of it? Chinese people can often tell what specific region other Chinese are from on the basis of looks.

                  In the case of Europeans, it’s often not necessarily body or facial features, but cultural signifiers. There’s almost no hard and fast rules, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not very generally possible, or that claiming to be able to do so is inherently racist.

              2. Liz T

                TheSnarkyB: That’s exactly what I mean by confirmation bias. Yes of course, you can look at someone and say, “That person looks how I’m told Italian-Americans look.” AKA “That person looks like a *stereotypical* Italian-American.” But if there are plenty of Italian-Americans who don’t look like that, and plenty of people who look like that but aren’t, then it’s no longer actually TRUE that Italian-Americans are visually distinguishable.

            2. Anon_DN

              “It wasn’t willful ignorance-I wasn’t doing anything offensive- it was just a complete lack of exposure (and not realizing how underexposed I was until people started telling me.)”

              I had the same experience and agree with TL’s comment.

        2. Katy

          Ha Ha, I love how riled up people get about this. I have my opinion and I expressed it. Now I’m being attacked for it. So sad that “people” have become such hate mongers.

          I never said racism was acceptable. I just don’t immediately assume something is racist when others apparently do. I will go back to my work now and refrain from being a complete jerk like so many of you have toward my expressed opinion.

          May you all have a day free of rude people, like yourselves, that cannot accept that people have differing opinions!

          1. some1

            Katy, you didn’t just express your opinion, though — you dismissed the LW’s. You implied that she “sees racism in everything”, when she listed specific examples that applies to workplace.

            1. Katy

              I accept your opinion, even though you can’t accept mine. Thank you for posting and not being so childish as to call names like some of the others. Too bad we can’t all be adults about this.

              1. llamathatducks

                Look, there’s no requirement to accept every opinion. There are clearly opinions that should not be accepted – open bigotry of the those-people-deserve-to-die-or-be-slaves variety is a good example. And for a lot of us, any opinions that reinforce oppression fall into the “completely unacceptable” category as well. (So not just open racism, but anything that condones racist actions as well.) People have been explaining to you why your opinions fall into that category. You may not agree, but you certainly shouldn’t be insisting that we “accept” your opinion when we find it abhorrent.

              2. Melissa

                Your opinion is harmful and offensive, though. Part of being an adult is realizing that you can’t just say whatever you want without people calling you out for it and/or pointing out the flaws in it.

          2. Meg

            You know, with the exception of a few commenters, most of them have been extremely nice and educational in explaining the problems behind your comment. If you bothered to listen to them, you might have learned something. Disagreeing with your viewpoint doesn’t make anyone a hate mongerer, but getting defensive and name-calling everyone who expressed their own opinion certainly doesn’t make them the rude one.

            I’m sorry you don’t want to understand other people’s opinions.

          3. Katie the Fed

            Here’s the problem, Katy.

            Many of us will at some point in our lives do/say something inadvertently offensive because we don’t know any better.

            When someone says “oh, you know, I find that offensive” the correct response is “Oh, I didn’t realize – can you explain more?” or “Oh, I’m so sorry and I won’t do it again.” The correct response is NOT “wow, you’re too sensitive and clearly looking for offense in everything! The problem is you, not me!”

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Exactly this. And certainly not to laugh (the “ha ha”) at people explaining why some behaviors are hurtful and rooted in very real violence and misery forced on entire groups of people, historically.

              1. LisaD

                Now do you see why I found her annoying enough to call names? Once a person has gone past the barrier of literally patting herself on the back (“I’m just more accepting!”) for being OK with racism, the chance of an appropriate response to the world’s politest, most educational reply is already nil.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  No :) It’s still not okay to do here, and it actually makes the situation worse, since as happened here, it makes it easy for her to just focus on the name-calling and ignore the other responses.

                2. Liz T

                  Dude, we all understand the impulse. Just don’t act on it, is all. It’s bad arguing. You have hurt the discourse.

          4. Elizabeth West

            Hmm, well you said you didn’t see why it was racist. No one was being a jerk (except maybe a couple of people who got mad), but trying to educate you as to why some people found those costumes hurtful.

            Sorry you can’t open your mind enough right now to rethink your opinion. Maybe you’ll think about it, and it might make some sense to you later. It’s okay to not understand and ask questions, and even be wrong sometimes; that’s how people learn. :)

          5. Natalie

            Literally one person called you a name, and incidentally was called out on that by the blog host. Dozens of other people have responded perfectly respectfully to you with plenty of good information for you to think about and links for additional reading

            I think it’s telling that the only comment you’ve decided to respond to is the insulting one.

          6. Forrest

            As a fellow white person, I don’t either of us are qualified to comment on if something is racist or not. The LW is part of a minority group and is offend and sees it as racist. That should be enough.

            It would be a like a guy dismissing your opinion that something is sexist.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I think white people can and should call out racism. What’s not okay is when they (we) insist something is NOT racist, particularly when there’s reams of evidence and historical precedent showing that it is.

          7. Anonymous

            You don’t want the right to have a different opinion – you want the right to have a different opinion that no one disagrees with. You can think and say whatever you want – and people can have whatever reaction they want to your opinion.

            Also: It’s too late to you to refrain from being a complete jerk. That ship has sailed.

          8. Helen

            You love it because you can afford to. You don’t see that some things are racist because you can afford it. Not all of us can do that. Things that you don’t feel are racism – because they don’t affect you – affect me. Racist costumes contribute to stereotypes of me and people like me – and they do, in fact, influence my regular life and interactions.

            You stated an opinion, so you should take responsibility for it, as people should, and you should accept that there will be different reactions to it. I accept that you have an opinion – now we can discuss the contents of that opinion.

    12. LR

      Costumes that rely on stereotypes of a disenfranchised group are racist, plain and simple. Gypsies (Roma), Native Americans, and blacks have all been subject to various forms of genocide in the not-too-distant past. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone insensitive enough to go to work dressed like a stereotype of a Jewish person. How is this different?

      You say, “Now, if they start to behave in a way that is demeaning to the ethnicity that they are dressed as, I could understand your concern but if they are just portraying a character…what’s the problem?” Dressing as one’s interpretation of another’s culture is demeaning. Other people’s culture (and ignorant impersonations of it) are not fair game for costume holidays. At work, no less!

      Blackface? Come on.

    13. themmases

      You’re right, “some people” are ignorant and needlessly inject racial animosity into what would otherwise be a nice, normal professional interaction

      Between the random white internet commenter who’s so ignorant she doesn’t know the difference between blackface and “white face”, and the African-American letter writer who asked how to respond professionally to people whose behavior is inappropriate, I think I know who it is.

    14. Anonymous

      Wow, normally I would think you’re a troll but you’re actually putting your name and face to this comment. I’m sure you’re (rightfully) getting jumped on with more eloquent responses than I can muster, but honestly, if you think that “some people see racism in everything” even when someone is dressed in BLACK FACE, I’m not sure how much effort it’s worth. Yikes.

    15. Rich

      I don’t think you can compare a comedy movie to what people are doing at work. Seeing a movie requires a conscious choice to go to a theater, fork over cash, and watch it. Walking into your work place and seeing stereotype city? Just not the same. No one should have to put up with that.

    16. Meg

      Dismissing racism and telling people to calm down is basically the opposite of “accepting”, FYI. I could explain why your comment is wrong, but other commenters have beat me to it, and were a lot nicer than I would have been.

    17. Anonymous

      Blackface has a very nasty position in US history. It is Not OK to do for many, many reasons. We’re talking minstrelsy here. Regardless white vs. black, it harkens back to a time when things were worse than they are now. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s the first thing I think of when someone mentions blackface. Same issue with the planking craze that hit a couple years ago.

      1. TheSnarkyB

        Wait, can you inform me about the implications of planking? I haven’t heard this & it sounds interesting!

        1. fposte

          I hadn’t heard of this either. Looking it up, I’m not yet convinced–I think it’s another false origin story. But there are voices suggesting that it’s rooted in the positions of captives on slave ships from Africa.

    18. Sarah

      Katy, I can see from your photo that you are a white woman. It is from a place of privilege that you are able to say “I am more accepting.” You are not more accepting, you are able to ignore oppression and racism because you are white. The Wayans brothers are not making a mockery of your oppression by pretending to be white chicks in their movie. Your privilege as a white person is what allows you to IGNORE racism. It is so important to really understand what you are actually saying when you think you are being tolerant. This is not tolerance, this is helping along a system of oppression.

    19. kac

      I recommend you read up a bit on the history of black face if you don’t think its racist. You can start with the wikipedia entry, which is quite well done: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackface

      To dress up as a “basket ball star” in general, and not a specific individual, and to make that a racialized costume is highly problematic. That is a whole costume based on racial stereotypes, and using the historically derogatory tool of blackface to reinforce those stereotypes is straight-up racist. Is it possible the person was unintentionally acting racist? Yes. That doesn’t make it not a racist action.

    20. Jubilance

      I’d suggest you get educated on the history of blackface in the US & how relates to bigotry & racism.

      This isn’t a “OMG people are throwing out the race card for no reason!” situation. It’s offensive & no one should be dressing up in blackface (or yellowface or redface or anything else) in 2013.

    21. Ford MF

      Not for nothing, but if your experience of life is that you frequently encounter people who “see racism in everything”, you … might want to take a step back a second and look in the mirror and examine exactly why that is.

    22. Meredith

      Blackface has an extremely specific and racist history, though. In the late 19th and early 20th century, it was popular on the vaudeville circuit for white performers to dress in black face in order to portray caricatures of blacks. It usually involved “comedy” that implied that 1) blacks were stupid and 2) the image of the “happy darkies” on the plantations was true and 3) white people were superior.

      Ergo, blackface is not the same as black people putting on makeup to appear white. It represents a painful history of discrimination, and that’s why its offensive.

      I realize the people who decide to dress up like black athletes or black musicians most likely don’t realize the highly offensive history of blackface, but that’s why they should be informed – ignorance is no excuse.

    23. Anna

      It’s not just about perception. It’s also about the history of blackface. White performers would paint their faces black and put on what were called minstrel shows, depicting black people in extremely stereotypical and extremely negative ways. So, no, it’s not “just a character” and people tend to see racism where it exists. Your implication is that by seeing racism and pointing it out, people are being closeminded and that’s not actually the case. Also, by equating the Wayans brothers in “white face” with racism and the history of racism conveniently lets racists off the hook, intentionally or not.

    24. Anonymous

      “Maybe I’m just more accepting”

      Yes, that’s it exactly. You are just more accepting and tolerant than the rest of us, who are a bunch of tight-asses who can’t see the harmless fun in coming to work in blackface in the year 2013.

      Thank you for pointing out the error of our ways – perhaps one day we can all be as tolerant and open-minded as you.

    25. Hina

      The thing is, Katy… you don’t get to decide for OTHER races what is racially offensive to them. THEY do. So it’s not for you to say “No it’s not.” You have no say at all in this.

    26. FD

      One way to think about it is that there are two kinds of offensive things. Some things are offensive by nature. For example, if I came up to you and called you a butt-face, it would be offensive, regardless of who I was and who you are.

      Some things are offensive because they have had a history associated with them which gives them certain connotations.

      It’s not only racial issues which can have strong connotations. There have been several incidents where artwork has been pulled because it looks too much like the September 11 attacks. On the other hand, the White House and other monuments are drawn (or shown in posters, etc) being destroyed all the time without evoking such a strong reaction. A historical happened and that event causes images of the Twin Towers burning to have a much stronger visceral reaction than another building burning.

      Now, blackface wasn’t just used to act out parts where a black person might not be available. It was used as a caricture of black people, and generally to mock them and to make them seem less important by portraying them as stupid or foolish. They often frequently featured as the villains of a piece. So, black face wasn’t just used because black people weren’t allowed to perform in many theatres. It was actively used for quite a long time to put down, degrade, and minimize black people. And as a result, black-face has a very strong negative connotation, due to its history. That’s at least a very important reason why black-face is offensive.

    27. Christine

      I completely agree with Katy. The intention behind the costumes is creativity and fun. Keeping that in mind, it sounds like this person is being extremely sensitive, it is a COSTUME. Do you really need a politically correct Halloween?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        You know that “politically correct” in this just means “not racist,” right?

        Are you really asking if the OP needs an office Halloween free of racism?

  3. SJ

    I’m not sure I see a problem with the Geisha or Gypsy costumes, but certainly do with the blackface.

    I would personally tell the office manager and ask that they make a general statement to all staff about being sensitive to race/ethnicity in their choice of costumes. But really this depends on how you feel about being upfront with your coworkers about your concerns, and whether your goal is to just keep them from wearing offensive costumes, or actually engage in a conversation about why their choice of costume offends you. The latter would be a better choice in terms of educating them in sensitivity, but the former might be less stressful for you.

    1. Anony

      A white person wearing those things is also racist and fetishising. It’s still cultural appropriation. (And g*psy is a slur.)

        1. PurpleChucks

          Ah, the nature of racism and privilege means they never have too :-( The power structure/system condones it, ensures it, reinforces it, and recycles it in ways people never have to recognize… Ain’t that some shit?

    2. LisaD

      Um, you don’t see a problem with people dressing up as a stereotype of the silent, submissive sexy Asian woman? You must be one of the few people fortunate enough to still be using the Internet without having yet run across the subgroup of men who love to talk about how American men should all go to Asia to find wives because they know their place and know how to take care of their man. Racism has real world consequences. It’s not just an intellectual exercise. Asian immigrants are among the most-trafficked women in sex work because of the white fetish for submissive Asian women. Playing geisha on Halloween sends the message that’s all okay.

      1. Pussyfooter

        Since when are Geisha silent, submissive, or sex workers?
        And I thought the creepy guys looking for sex toys in asia were generally preying on low income people from southern Asia (though I’m sure exploited poor people are everywhere).

        Geisha’s not an ethnicity, it *is* a job. When Japan fell on hard times, Geisha were exploited for sex–but the main focus of this career has–and is–an ideal of Japanese femininity embodied in a high-class, highly skilled (frankly clever) event hostess.

        There are tour groups that go to the old Geisha parts of Kyoto for a day, and are dressed as/taught about the custom by Japanese people. Then they wander around and get photographed in public. If the Japanese don’t have a problem with dressing me this way, how is it bad?

          1. Pussyfooter

            What confuses me about this is that I’ve never heard of Japanese people being offended by this, while I know for a fact that some of them are actively perpetuating it. Does it make a difference if I am visiting Japan as a tourist or wearing the same outfit in the US?

            If the fact that I could pay for the privilege in Japan makes it ok *there*, what does that mean? Why wouldn’t doing this for money be exploitation or maybe “selling out”?

            What if I was given a kimono by a Japanese friend? Can I only wear it in their presence? Which situations are ok and which not? More importantly, why?

            I know…too many questions. I am solidly on the “we are all perpetuating entities that underpin racism, therefore we are all racist” in a structural sense. But the logistics of socializing related to this topic seem dizzying. I have lots and lots of questions for everyone.

    3. Ellie H.

      Geishas aren’t really as relevant today is my understanding, it is basically associated with a past historical tradition; it’s one element of a traditional cultural practice. Different from just a “profession.” A lot of people see it as a sexist and misogynist tradition as well. It also reinforces stereotypes that sexualize and exoticize Asian women.

      With a gypsy costume, first of all, many (probably most, but not all) people feel that “Gypsy” is an ethnic slur. Second, the costume is a stereotyped appearance of an entire culture of people, so it’s no different than any other ethnic costume. Especially because it’s a nation that has always been and still is oppressed and marginalized.

      1. Chinook

        “Geishas aren’t really as relevant today is my understanding, it is basically associated with a past historical tradition; it’s one element of a traditional cultural practice. ”

        Geishas still do exist. They train and work in Kyoto (I have a photo of one on her graduation day). It is a very traditional art form and one the Japanese are proud of. They consider an important part of their culture.

        1. llamathatducks

          Heh, my friend’s mom, who is a prominent biologist in the U.S., was taken to a geisha house by her hosts at a biology conference in Japan – because they didn’t realize until she arrived that she was a woman, and at that point the plans had been made…..

          1. Pussyfooter

            Geisha have traditionally entertained both genders–it’s just that most occasions they are hired for tend to be mostly men. At least nowadays.

          2. Pussyfooter

            It’s not a sex thing. Geisha do entertain both men and women.
            They act as a sort of official party host: play music, play dice games, sort of lead the fun so there won’t be boring or awkward times, and everybody has fun.

            1. llamathatducks

              Huh, thanks for letting me know! In this case, the way my friend recounted it, it really sounded like the plans were made this way because they expected her to be a guy – they were surprised that she was a woman, and they let her choose whether she still wanted to go see the geishas (she did). But of course I heard this secondhand, so…

              1. Pussyfooter

                I’m not Japanese, I’ve learned this stuff from others myself. Just because Geisha *can* entertain both genders doesn’t mean that’s the party those guys had in mind.
                The “oh you’re a girl [insert authoritative profession here]!” thing is world-wide, anyway.

              2. Pussyfooter

                Ok that’s the 2nd time today I’ve posted and–after the usual 505 Error–my comment vanished!

                So like I was saying,
                I’m not Japanese and haven’t gotten to go to Japan–I’ve learned my info 2nd hand, too. (documentaries mostly) And I bet they *were* surprised :’) Just because women may go, doesn’t mean it’s common or normal–or the kind of guys-only camaraderie they were expecting their party to have.
                I wonder if sexism is more common than racism.

        2. Ellie H.

          Thanks for letting me know! I wasn’t aware it was a contemporary practice of traditional culture; I thought that people participated in it kind of as a reenactment, like we do Colonial Williamsburg or have Revolutionary War reenactors or whatever. The extent of knowledge I have about the subject is basically limited to whatever I learned in my Japanese art history class which was mostly focused on ukiyo-e.

      2. SJ

        Thanks all for responding to initial comment… I didn’t expect any responses so just checked on it now. I’m posting a reply under Ellie H.’s response because it will be applicable to what I have to say, and actually think all the responses have illustrated what I meant by the (second paragraph) of my initial comment.

        When I said “I’m not sure I see a problem with” those two costumes that is literally what I meant… I didn’t realize either of those things are considered ethnic slurs or offensive. Obviously I did not respond to defend racism or to say the OP should not be offended by her coworker’s choices of costumes.

        The responses like Ellie H.’s (and others just the first one that caught my attention) that gave information on WHY those costumes are offensive, rather than just saying “be more sensitive” or expressing general outrage, were very helpful to mean and taught me something I did not know before today (I’m not ashamed of being ignorant of some things; what you don’t know you don’t know, all you can do is be receptive to others teaching you more about it)

        Similarly, OP, if either you or your office manager were to inform your coworkers WHY these costumes offend you– no matter how outraged you feel at their ignorance in choosing the costumes in the first place (because realistically they probably aren’t doing it out of hatred but out of ignorance), you’re accomplishing more than just making them take the costume off. You’re teaching them something.

    4. A Bug!

      “Gypsy” is now actually considered a pejorative word; it refers to the Romany people, who experience a great deal of racism and discrimination in the areas they populate. Dressing up as “a Gypsy” is not much different than dressing up as “a Jew”.

      (It’s also the source of the term “gyp”, which most people learn as children and often use into adulthood without making the connection.)

      Someone else better familiar with the subject might explain to you why “geisha” is also a problematic costume, for slightly different reasons, but in general, “exoticism” is harmful because it appropriates others’ culture in a shallow, aesthetic way without understanding or respecting it in a substantive way.

      1. Greg

        A couple years ago, one of my employees sent out a newsletter with the word “gypped” in it. I didn’t see it until after it had already gone out, but I noticed it immediately (we subsequently received a complaint from a reader). The employee had no idea it was even considered a slur.

    5. Hina

      There are white women who go to Japan and study and apprentice to be geish, which is an honorable tradition. Whereas Halloween Geisha costumes I’ve seen, 9 times out ten, are some equivalent to “yellow face” if such a term were coined (maybe it is?) Because they will involve making the person to look “Asian” and some weird false stereotype about what Geisha is.

      As for Gypsy… “gypsies” are properly known as Roma or Romany. They are originally from Rajasthan, India, having migrated across the globe. It’s unfortunate that an incorrect name forced upon an ethnic group by people who despised them is now used as some random caricature. There ARE white folks who live in very similar nomadic ways as Roma do. As I understand it, they’re called Travelers.

      I do think with “gypsy” there is nothing inherently wrong at all with dressing a certain way—like a fortuneteller, say—as long are you aren’t somehow behaving in a way to mock and insult Roma people.

      But then, it is a personal value of mine not to show disrespect to someone simply because of what group they were born into. That seems the height of bad manners to me. It’s certainly not in any way professional, workplace behavior.

      Why defend such things – in the workplace, no less?

    1. Ann O'Nemity

      Thanks for the link. In many cases, I don’t think folks intend to be racist or insensitive; they’re just not aware of the implications of their actions. And in retrospect, I cringe at some of my childhood costumes – Pocahontas and Roma come to mind. An educational campaign like this is great.

      1. businesslady

        yeah, I was definitely “an Indian” for Halloween circa third grade, & I wish I could go back in time to revise that.

        1. louise

          I’m curious – I grew up in “Halloween is bad and evil” household where we weren’t allowed to celebrate that holiday.

          However, my mom encouraged dressing up and costume play in other situations (like a birthday party where guests were encouraged to come dressed as their favorite detective–pretty safe from accidental racism there).

          The best holiday growing up? Thanksgiving. My mom had a whole set of Pilgrim and Native American costumes in all manner of sizes and all of us kids — and she! — would pick which one we wanted to be that year and wear it to school the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve never thought of it as having any racist overtones and reflecting on it now, I just don’t see any. I’d love to hear what others think — was choosing to dress as a generic historical representative inadvertently racist? Does the fact that it was for Thanksgiving change anything? Should I be cringing when I think back on this?

          1. TamaraLea

            I had similar dress up events in my family growing up. we had Pilgrims and “Indians” complete with role play. I know it was not intended to be hurtful and it was a different time and yet I would not do that now because I know better.

            I can’t speak for others, but I consider how I would feel in a similar situation and I would not like it.

            Lets say I had a quality (such as skin color) that had caused some people to discriminate against me in my life, or an ethnic background that I believed may have set me at a disadvantage in life. If I saw others dressing up as a stereotype of the group of people I was part of (generically – like dressing up as a native American), I think it might feel like mockery.

            1. louise

              I keep mulling this over and I just put my finger on why this is hard for me — costumes were treated as part of celebrating things we idealized. So, anytime we dressed up, it was as something we looked up to — super heroes, a favorite animal, and in the case of Thanksgiving, historical figures.

              So, that’s my hangup in understanding how to draw a line between appropriate and inappropriate. If we encourage kids to emulate their idols, then how do we tell them some heroes are off limits because they’re different than us?

              I’m not trying to be obtuse, honestly. Also–I don’t have kids, so I’m at least not dragging any other humans through my uncertainty.

            2. JuliB

              In college my friend and I dressed up as __town name ___ housewives. The town was of the eastern Euro descent.

              However, I share that ethnic background. Does that make it ok? I would ay it doesn’t matter – it was funny and I wouldn’t care if non-Eastern Europeans did it.

          2. Lilla

            Honestly – I’d say just don’t perpetuate it with the next generation. When you learn that the Pilgrims stole from and abused the hospitality of the Native peoples in order to survive, then took their lands, displacing them, etc., you realize that the Thanksgiving story is creation-story mythology, not what actually happened. And the mythology that smooths over what actually happened to America’s Native peoples at the hands of European colonials perpetuates the hiding of the power structures that implicitly priveledge those of European descent (although to complexify that, not all Europeans/whites are ‘equal’ either, and the categorization of ethnic groups into being considered white or colored has shifted over even the 20th century in addition to today) while disempowering Native peoples. After all, whose version of Thanksgiving were you recreating?

          3. Anna

            These “Native American” costumes, were they actually based on accurate historical representations of Native Americans, either from the geographical area where you grew up, or from New England, where the Pilgrims would have encountered them? Or did they involve lots of feathers and striped paint on your faces?

            And when you dressed up in those costumes, did you discuss how the Pilgrims and others like them systematically and deliberately murdered the Native Americans and stole from them? Or did you playact them all getting along?

            I think the biggest problem with the scenario you describe is that it’s unreflective. Even for kids, it’s a huge problem to present one of the bloodiest and most racist events in American history as a happy fun party where lots of dark-skinned folks in leather pants got to eat a good meal. And the stereotypes of Native American costumes that little kids often wear are part and parcel of the problem of whitewashing the atrocities of our history and painting a fake picture of happy Natives who were civilized by the White man.

          4. Whitney

            Just to add a different view on this particular tradition; I am in my mid-twenties and of mixed race but identify as Native American because my father’s side of the family is and that is how I was raised. Native American stereotypes and generalizations are so painful for me when I encounter them.

            While in elementary school we would have Thanksgiving costume celebrations. It was always very embarrassing and hurtful for me to see the other children dressed in paper grocery bag vests with fringe running around making “war cries” with their faces painted up. I dressed just like the other kids (t-shirts and jeans). I never made “war cries” or painted my face. Sacred objects like tomahawks and feathers were things we kept safe and proudly displayed as part of our ancestry. These were not things we ran around with playing cowboys & indians, which was another very painful part of childhood.

            Thanksgiving for me as a child meant kids mocking me, my family and native cultures. So even though I understand others being caught up in the moment,meaning no harm and just trying to have fun, it was never fun for me. It always hurt.

            I would encourage children to emulate their idols’ character (morals). There is nothing wrong with wanting to be like your hero. But take the time to explain the difference between honoring their hero’s values and dressing like their hero.

        2. Rana

          Yeah, and I once belonged to a group called “Indian princesses” (it was a daughter-father crafts-and-camping group) and had a toy tiger from Sambo’s restaurant.

          I consider it progress that I now understand how problematic and offensive both of those things were. As a white person raised in a racist society, I’m going to screw up, repeatedly, over the course of my life, with regards to racism. The real question for those of us with privilege is how we respond when we learn of our mistakes – do we apologize and strive to do better, and educate ourselves and others so we avoid other offenses in the future, or do we get defensive and make yet another conversation all about us, and not about the person we hurt?

          1. Jamie

            So much this.

            It’s the old thing of we will inadvertently step on each others feet out of ignorance. But how do we respond? Say we’re sorry, learn, and try not to step on feet in that way again? Do we tell people that since we didn’t mean it, it shouldn’t hurt and stop being such babies about it?

            I think it all boils down to trying not to hurt people if you can help it…that’s a path that works pretty well in most areas of life.

            1. Chinook

              “It’s the old thing of we will inadvertently step on each others feet out of ignorance. But how do we respond? ”

              I agree that we will make mistakes out of ignorance, but it is hard to apologize meaningfully (and I am Canadian, so it is often automatic once I realize I have made an error) if you are immediately met with outright anger and hatred for doing somethign you had no clue was wrong. I am still growing in understanding on how other cultures on my continent interact and how very different how I grew up was but when I hear someone snapping “don’t do that ever!” or “how could you not know that!”, then of course I am going to be defnsive because I am forced to either admit that I am a complete idiot or defend what, up until a few minutes earlier, I thought was a logical action. I am not given room to learn what I did was wrong.

              Now, I understand the other party may snap like that because I am the 20th person to do X, but if I have never done X before or if X was always considered appropriate according to my upbringing and I am not causing you physical harm, do I deserve to be berated in turn?

              1. Jamie

                Oh, I agree – anger rather than education makes people defensive.

                I assume people who know me would know that if I said or did anything that was racially offensive it wasn’t intentional and would give me a heads up and not assume I was a secret bigot just jumping out of the hatred closet.

                And I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until very recently that I read about appropriation and why it was offensive. And it’s not that I walked around in a warbonnet, but I wasn’t sensitive to the issue because it didn’t occur to me.

                I think that’s where the privilege part comes in. Racial issues aren’t at the forefront for me because in my life they don’t have to be. So I need to make an effort.

                And it’s a journey. When I first heard about the whole white privilege thing I was annoyed, to be totally honest. I had the same knee-jerk reaction a lot of non-racist but insensitive people have where I thought it isn’t my fault I was born white so don’t blame me. But I read more about it, despite my irritation, and while I don’t agree with everything everyone says about it I get now that it has nothing to do with blame and it’s not about guilt. It’s about acknowledging a cultural mindset that is harmful to other people.

                Something as simple as reading a story and if the race of a character isn’t specified most people will use white as the default. That’s subtle, it’s something I had never once thought about, but it’s wrong and it sucks.

                And I think where some people get stuck is, “X wouldn’t bother me, so it shouldn’t bother you.”

                I am of European descent – and if people wanted to dress up in lederhosen, or the traditional costume of the Gorale, or like an Irish farm wife I couldn’t care less. Because it truly and honestly doesn’t affect me – and whatever stereotypes there may be out there of the Irish, or the Germans, or the Poles…they don’t change how people see me and perpetuating those stereotypes doesn’t affect how I, or others in my ethnic group, are viewed for jobs, by politicians, or society at large.

                You can’t really hurt me with that because it’s not a sensitive area for me.

                Now, if I were a member of a group which has been oppressed and denied opportunity based on my ethnicity…I would resent perpetuating stereotypes that people have used in the not so distant past to deny me opportunities to earn a decent living.

                And in a way it’s unfair that POC have to educate people like me about this stuff, because I don’t inherently get it – but if people are offended and take the time to explain why X bothers them I owe them the respect to listen with an open mind.

                But that doesn’t mean everyone who offends someone else is a racist or intentionally trying to hurt them. It’s ignorance in the true sense of the word in that of not knowing any better…it’s whether or not people are willing to learn is the question.

      2. Marigold

        I was a “hobo.” Smudged dirt on my face, untucked oversized men’s shirt, a sack tied on the end of a stick over my shoulder… I don’t know what my parents were thinking.

        The next year, I was a kitty. And much cuter. :)

        1. Kelly L.

          I think a lot of costumes come from parents being low on money or time and just raiding their closets for stuff and calling it a costume!

          1. Jamie

            This cracked me up. For my elder siblings my mom was a SAHM and they won contests with her handcrafted, handsewn costumes she made. Starting in summer…measurements, patterns, just the right fabric.

            By the time I entered pre-school she was a divorced mom of 4 back in school. I got shoved in a box covered in wrapping paper with a giant bow and went as a Christmas Present.

            YOU CAN’T SIT DOWN WEARING A BOX!

            I have always blamed all of my emotional problems on the fact that I was neglected each October and taunted by photos in the family album of my more loved siblings in costumes made with such care…costumes where you didn’t need assistance getting out of a giant box so you could go to the bathroom.

            It’s a wonder I didn’t become a serial killer. Neglect hurts.

  4. Susan

    If you want to cut off any potential weirdness before it starts, you could always suggest a theme (i.e. “come as your favorite Hollywood star of yesteryear!”) for people’s costumes. Might not work, but worth a shot.

  5. Anon

    Spin it as trying to help your workplace out. Things could look Real Bad for your company if pictures get out and all over the internet…this has happened to companies before.

  6. nuqotw

    Blackface is really unacceptable, and much more so than the other customs because of the US’s particular racial history, the historical use of blackface in reinforcing negative stereotypes about black people, and the use of blackface to make those stereotypes socially acceptable. If I found out a company sanctioned blackface (not that I have any idea how I would find that out, but anyway) that would be grounds in my mind to withhold business, and tell everyone I knew to avoid them as well.

      1. nuqotw

        I certainly agree; perhaps I was unclear – let me rephrase.

        It’s that it should be impossible to be oblivious to the heinous history of white/black relations in this country. While white people have certainly done some horrible, racist things to other non-white, non-black folks, and I’m not excusing that, it might be possible to just be super-culturally clueless to the point of callousness. (You are of course, free to disagree.)

        1. Forrest

          Err….Americans got a grand history of doing horrible racist things to other people (Muslims, Native Americans, the Chinese, the Irish???). I’m not sure why one group of all is not culturally excusable. You either know American history or you don’t.

          And there’s nothing wrong with not knowing, just being too stubborn to learn is the problem.

          1. TL

            I think nuquotw was referring to the scope (time-wise) and the emphasis within the mainstream culture, historically. Nobody is unaware that slavery happened, for hundreds of years, and it was a terrible thing. (Ditto with the treatment of Native Americans.)

            Many people are unaware of the issues the Irish faced during the potato famine immigration.

  7. De Minimis

    The Indian costume issue is complicated [I actually am Indian and work for an Indian-related agency] but generally, yes it’s considered pretty offensive to have one’s culture/heritage turned into a Halloween costume. No matter how it is intended, it’s a trivializing act to have Indian heritage equated with fictional characters, clowns, monsters, and whatever else people dress up as. I find it interesting that people have no trouble considering blackface offensive, but not dressing up as an Indian. But I really have no desire to derail the discussion, so that’s all I’ll say about it.

    I think Halloween costume parties in general are usually asking for trouble in the workplace. I’ve seen several over the years [including my current workplace] and people generally have been good about just keeping it fun and not pushing the envelope, but it really just takes one person to turn it into a hornet’s nest.

    1. Julie

      I think many (most, I hope) of us do think it’s offensive to dress up as an Indian (or any other racial or ethnic group), but the conversation in the comments just hadn’t gone in that direction yet.

      Your comment made me think about just how unbelievably offensive it is to have sports teams named the “Redskins,” etc. Why haven’t those names been changed? (I know some have, but not all of them.)

      1. Liz T

        My boyfriend refers to them exclusively as the Washington Racists.

        (I don’t refer to them at all. When I was studying for Jeopardy, I realized that if I got on the show I’d have to memorize the names of every major sports team, because I don’t follow that stuff at ALL.)

        1. Natalie

          “My boyfriend refers to them exclusively as the Washington Racists.”

          Aaaaand stealing this. Brilliant.

        1. De Minimis

          Don’t get me started on that one….although even then it can be complicated. You have a lot of disagreement even among Indian people about the mascot issue–I grew up in a majority Indian community where the high school mascot was the Indian, and a high school operated by my tribe also has the Indian mascot.
          But what is annoying is when outside people take that disagreement as a justification that all Indian themed mascots are okay, no matter who’s doing them and no matter how offensive the portrayal is.
          Sigh, I said I wouldn’t get started….

            1. Amy

              The ‘image’ for the team is a stylized native american head, ‘war paint’ and all….I think it’s referring to the historical chief of the Sauk tribe, in what is now Illinois and Wisconsin

        2. RedStateBlues

          I don’t think the biggest issue with the Cleveland Indians is the use of the term Indian. Have you seen that ridiculous caricature? I think his name is Chief Wahoo, if my memory is correct.

          1. Jessica

            NE Ohioan here. Yes, the Indians’ mascot is Chief Wahoo, and he’s a racist caricature. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved.

      2. Sydney Bristow

        Many publications are refusing to use their team name. I wonder if that pressure will convince other publications/TV stations to stop and ultimately get the team to change their name. My boyfriend wants to be rich enough to buy all the teams with racist names (and spectator gestures) just so he can rename them.

            1. Heather

              If I ever hear about some random guy winning the Powerball, buying the Redskins, Blackhawks, Braves & Indians & changing all their team names, I’ll know who it was :)

      3. annie

        RE Indians, I think there is some leeway here for what type of costume party it is. If say, everyone in second grade has to come dressed as a historical figure and you get a Pocahontas along with an Abe Lincoln, Rosie the Riviter and Davey Crockett – I’m okay with that and I am aware of some schools/church groups in my community who have required that Halloween costumes are “educational” or “historical” if kids choose to dress up. But when its just a generic “Indian” or adults doing it, that feels weird to me.

        1. fposte

          Yes, for me the big alerts would be generic racial/ethnic identity and face paint. (Though if you’re not into costuming, I could be amused by your satirically coming as “generic [your own race].”

          And it’s not a simple binary–there’s a lot of context for all of these that would make a difference to whether it offended, whether it was exploitative, etc.

        2. Elizabeth

          Yeah, if it’s adults, just saying “I’m Pocahontas!” doesn’t justify a generic “Indian princess” costume (especially if it includes a fringed minidress and a warbonnet). But I wouldn’t be bothered by a non-Native American person tastefully dressing up as Sherman Alexie… maybe for a book club Halloween party?

        3. JenTheNiceHRGirl

          I see what you are saying. If someone is dressing as a historical figure who perhaps they admire (or certainly kids wearing Disney costumes), that is certainly not the same as dressing in a way that makes fun of someone else’s culture. I can certainly say that if I saw someone dressed as a famous person from my nationality, I would think that was pretty cool. but if they were doing it to be mean or make fun… then I would certainly think that was inappropriate. I have a dark/medium tan skin tone so as a kid I favored characters or individuals who had a similar skin tone (because I related to them and felt that they looked like “me”) and I have definitely rocked the Pocahontas costume as a kid. Now if I were to do that now, I don’t know, maybe someone would be offended. It’s not worth it if you think you might hurt someone’s feelings or make them upset. Not that I have wore a costume on Halloween in a at least 15 years!

      4. Forrest

        Beats me. We changed our basketball team because it was offense (we went from the Bullets to the Wizards.)

        My guess is there’s a minority hierarchy of some sorts and Native Americans are way down the list.

        1. fposte

          Judging by the battle at my institution, people are often more invested in tradition than they are in the opinions of a minority, especially a minority whose political and economic power isn’t formidable.

          1. Forrest

            Which is weird because the Redskins suck. I totally think its a karma thing – Why are we holding on to it?

            (And I’m a DCer so I can use such language as “Redskins suck.”)

        2. SAF

          Don’t you remember the objections to that? Wizards is a Klan rank! (or so people who didn’t want the name changed screamed.)

          I expected them to go with some sort of animal.

      5. Leslie Yep

        My high school’s mascot changed from the Indians to the Huskies sometime in the early 90s. People still bitterly complain about how this “took away my identity!”

        That sound you hear in the distance? Yeah that’s your irony meter; it’s off the charts.

  8. Julie

    Wow. I think the best thing is to say something right at the time these folks are talking about the costumes they’re planning to wear. If you’re hearing about it from other people, you could say something to those people. I think you should go with your initial reaction – something like, “wow, I’d be pretty offended if someone thought blackface was OK as part of a costume.” And maybe, “I wonder if Sue realizes that dressing up as someone of another race/ethnicity might not be a good idea…” Unless you work in a place where everyone is oblivious, there must be other people who feel the way you do and just haven’t had the courage to say anything. I hope that once you start the conversation, others will hear about it and speak up (saying that they feel the same way).

    I can understand that it’s probably difficult to feel like the only person (so far) who has noticed and disagreed with these bad ideas (especially since you’re new-ish), but sometimes you just can’t keep silent about something that really bothers you. I’ve been in that situation before (where it seems like everyone feels one way, and I don’t agree), and each time I’ve said something, I’ve felt better, even if no one else changed his/her opinion. This sounds corny, but in these situations, I feel like I have to be true to myself and to what’s important to me.

    Just as an aside, pretty much every time I have spoken up about something, the people who initially held the opposite view have backed down to some degree. They’ve said, “well, I didn’t mean it that way” or “I see your point” or something like that, but I haven’t really had the experience of people digging in their heels. And even if they did, well, I guess we just disagree on that point.

    Somewhat related: It wasn’t that long ago that I realized that words/phrases like “gypped” and “paddy wagon” are offensive, and I’m sorry to say that it didn’t occur to me until someone called it to my attention. I don’t think it’s just “politically correct” to avoid using language that’s offensive – it’s also the kind thing to do. Sometimes people don’t realize they’re being offensive (even when we think they should).

    1. Liz T

      I agree that it’s best to mention it before the actual party, if possible. People are more likely to be defensive if they’re already in costume–they can’t just go change, and we tend to justify our actions more once we’ve already DONE them.

      I do think you should talk to the office manager. To be honest, I think you’ll get most traction on the blackface issue, since it’s the most-widely accepted as racist, and the fact that you, yourself, are African-American, could a) lend weight to the complaint and b) make the office manager worry about the legal ramifications.

      Of course, I’m a white person. It’s equally possible that your being a person of color will make it harder to get this taken seriously, rather than easier; you would know better. Honestly, this whole situation is so beyond the pale, it’s hard for me to predict how people would react.

      1. Elizabeth

        I agree – the sooner the better. Most people will not have started to make their costumes yet, I’m guessing, so they will be less likely to get defensive than if they’ve already glued feathers into a “headdress” or ordered a wig from Amazon.

        I fear that you’re right in your last paragraph, too – that the OP’s concerns will be dismissed as her being “over-sensitive” because she is a person of color. It makes me awfully angry, but I’ve seen it happen before…

      2. Mints

        People still do blackface? That’s crazy pants!
        As an aside, if your costume needs blackface, it’s a shitty costume, from a crafty point of view.
        Anyway, I was going to say that people HATE being called racist (even if they deserve it!). They’ll get defensive, fast.
        Better language would be “problematic,” or “historically racist.”
        And i agree–Definitely before the partty

        1. khilde

          “People still do blackface? That’s crazy pants!
          As an aside, if your costume needs blackface, it’s a shitty costume, from a crafty point of view.”

          That whole train of thought made me laugh. I love it.

    2. Nichole

      Yes, say something directly…nicely. Assuming OP doesn’t think her coworkers have ill intent, which she don’t seem to, saying something is a kindness. I would be mortified to find out my Halloween costume marginalized anyone, and grateful if someone mentioned it while it was still in idea phase.

  9. Arbynka

    I would like to point out that the term gypsy is considered very derogatory by most members of Roma community. The proper term is Romani.

    1. Katie the Fed

      If this thread has taught me anything, it’s that people may just be ignorant of what’s acceptable.

      Isn’t it easier to educate/prevent than wait for it to happen and file a complaint?

      1. Erin

        Also, not sure anything has happened so far to warrant EEOC action. A successful suit usually requires surprisingly severe behavior. Hearing through the grapevine that one guy once went to a party in blackface, as distressing as that might be, is highly unlikely to qualify absent any other actions or harm.

    2. majigail

      I think the OP needs to speak up within the organization first. If it’s not resolved and the costumes worn are offensive even after that complaint, then making a complaint to the government might be warranted. There’s a big difference between a group of blissfully ignorant coworkers wearing ethic costumes and hateful people dressing in blackface to degrade others…. and there’s a whole lot of in between.

  10. LisaD

    Your workplace has customers, right? Maybe you can speak firmly to the office manager but present it as “Aren’t you worried a customer will find out about this and be upset?” so you don’t seem like you’re going against the company, you’re looking out for the company’s interests. Maybe point out that these things go viral fast on social media and one photo posted on Facebook of an employee in blackface could cause national-level negative press.

    1. ella

      I dunno. I feel like that strategy perpetuates the idea of “We shouldn’t do this because it’ll piss people off,” rather than “We shouldn’t do this because it’s cruel and insensitive.” I (naively) want people to do things for the right reasons, and I know too many people who will–in the face of something like threatened internet animosity–curb their behavior without addressing their attitudes at all.

  11. JenTheNiceHRGirl

    We have had similar issues in our workplace, however I do have to say that most business professionals know now to wear offensive costumes. Therefore, we end up with repeat offenders. If it is the same way with your company and it is always those same individuals who are dressing in inappropriate costumes, then their managers should have a private conversation with them ahead of time. Additionally, if costumes are going to continue to be allowed, someone in charge (Office Manager, HR Manager, etc..) needs to issue a memo or send out an e-mail explaining what is considered proper dress for an office function and what is not, as well as telling people that if they feel that their choice of costume may be potentially offensive, then to just choose another costume. Now if here are a lot of folks wearing these types of offensive costumes, then I would be all for not allowing costumes at all. Maybe just have a casual day instead and have a nice party without the dressing up part. Good luck!

    1. Julie

      We have had similar issues in our workplace, however I do have to say that most business professionals know now to wear offensive costumes.

      You mean, “…know not to wear offensive costumes.” right? I’m not trying to be snarky – I was a little confused by the first part of your comment about the repeat offenders. Are you saying that most people dress in business-appropriate costumes, but a few people either don’t understand or don’t care what’s appropriate?

      1. JenTheNiceHRGirl

        Yes, that’s what I meant. Sorry for my many typos and if I wrote anything that was confusing. I was just typing too fast. We have never had anyone at my place of work wear racially insensitive costumes. However, we have had a few people wear inappropriate costumes (we once had a guy come in with fake plastic naked boobs) Most business professionals that I have worked with in my industry understand not to wear costumes which could potentially be offensive or hurtful to their coworkers. If anyone does not understand that, then their manager needs to sit them down and explain to them why they cannot wear certain things and explain how it could potentially offend their coworkers. Also, just for the record, I am a minority. If someone were to dress in a way that offended my nationality or the nationality of my coworkers and friends, I wouldn’t like it at all. I think that by now people in a professional business environment should know better but sadly they do not. Just the other day I had this older lady refer to someone as Oriental and I was like oohhh that’s not appropriate, people don’t say that anymore. She wasn’t trying to be mean or offensive, she just didn’t know any better. So sometimes that’s the case, they just don’t realize that they are being offensive, and their manager simply needs to let them know that it is not ok. Now if they are being offensive on purpose, that’s another story because that is harassment and should be dealt with accordingly. Oh and no offense on the snarkiness. When people see HR in my name they tend to want to give me a hard time :) I am quite used to it.

    2. JustMe

      +1

      This. Besides, if the entire office gets a memo, it could actually prevent a slew of inappropriate costumes, besides just the horrible blackface costume. You could also avoid “sexy maid/secretary/schoolgirl/etc.”

      I would say the memo idea is just a good idea overall.

  12. Scott M

    I wonder if it was “historical” blackface or just makeup. If out was the lattee, I can understand why someone who is ignorant of the history of necklace might not understand why it was offensive. Wearing brown makeup might be seen as just part of the costume. Still, people need to know that such a thing is considered offensive.
    Just ask for the rules about costumes. Perhaps that will get your manager thinking about it.

    1. Liz T

      Don’t wonder: the costume was generic “Basketball Star.” No possible justification, not even requiring an explanation about the history of blackface–just explicitly making a joke about black people, and using blackface to do it.

  13. Helen

    If someone I knew was dressed up in blackface I would tell them to their face that it was not cool and suggest they wash it off. There’s pretty low risk that that criticism would backfire since it’s widely acknowledged as offensive. For the other costumes mentioned it could be a finer line so I might ignore it (for example I’m not going to tell someone dressed as a Disney character that their costume is offensive even if I think so because it might seem like an overreaction to others).

  14. Ellie H.

    This is not related to the workplace – but what are your thoughts on saying something to someone in a social context who’s wearing a racist costume? I had a Halloween party last year (annual) and one of my friends brought her roommate, who showed up in a harem girl outfit. I was pretty offended but chose not to say anything; I figured that the person was a guest in my home, I would never see her again or have any other contact with her, and it wasn’t worth it to say anything. If it had been someone I knew well in my own house, or somewhere (like at a public event) where it wouldn’t be inappropriate in terms of hosting etiquette to say something, I would like to think I would have said that I thought it was offensive. Any thoughts?

    1. Katie the Fed

      I think when you’re hosting, your #1 job is to make your guests feel welcome.

      But I would totally judge her behind her back.

      1. Ellie H.

        I agree – I also have to say it somewhat lowered my opinion of my friend, who didn’t say anything about it and didn’t seem to see any problem.

        1. Erin

          To be fair, it may truly never have occurred to people that this was derrogatory toward people of Middle Eastern heritage. If you go to a costume store, there will be racks full of these types of costumes. Since it’s so wide-spread, it might not occur to people that it’s not okay. I mean, you don’t see pre-made minstrel performer, SS officer, or KKK member costumes in these stores because these are costumes we all agree are super super racist (at least, I hope we can agree on these). So someone who isn’t consciously thinking about it might not ever realize the costume could be a problem.

          1. Anon

            Yeah, I think most Americans are going to be thinking “Princess Jasmine!” rather than putting this in any real-life context. I would be really bothered by an “Indian” costume, but I wouldn’t have given the harem girl a second thought before this conversation. That doesn’t mean it’s not offensive, obviously, just that it’s not on my radar.

              1. Chinook

                But since genies are supernatural creatures, doesn’t that mean they are in the same “safe” category as ghosts and leprachauns?

                1. Jamie

                  That’s what I would have thought. The Irish in me isn’t offended by leprechaun costumes…and the German in me doesn’t care if everyone wants to go as the St. Pauli Girl – but I don’t get personally offended by a whole lot ethnically, so I’m not the standard bearer on this.

      2. llamathatducks

        But what about the guests who will probably feel unwelcome as a direct result of racist costumes? Prioritizing the comfort of someone who is acting racist over the comfort of people affected by racism is… well, bad priorities, in my mind, but in any case you’re not just increasing the comfort of your guests.

        Also, I think when you’re inviting people to your place, you absolutely have the right to set boundaries around what you’ll tolerate. (But this should probably have been addressed before the party rather than after.)

        1. Katie the Fed

          well, this particular costume doesn’t seem QUITE offensive enough to say something to the guest. If it was blackface, I’d say something like I’m concerned that it’s making other guests uncomfortable.

          1. llamathatducks

            Yeah, you could be right. (I’m just not sure since as a white person I don’t want to be the arbiter of what’s “offensive enough” to deal with.) This is partly why I’m saying that it would have been a good idea to lay down rules in advance that explicitly ban any ethnic costumes at this party.

            1. fposte

              My guess? There are people who won’t even register that as an ethnically connected costume, and those are the people likeliest to wear it.

            2. Regular Gone Anon

              How is this any different than what Katy said about “I don’t see it as THAT offensive” and being called a “smug twit” because she’s white and more accepting because it just doesn’t appear on her radar?

              1. Katie the Fed

                ONE person called her a smug twit, and many people called that poster out for it.

                Others were attempting to educate/inform, to little avail.

              2. another anonymous

                yeah so… if you feel the need to hide behind a special anonymous name? you already know you should be keeping your mouth shut.

                It’s like those people who start out saying something with, “I’m not a racist, but…” (I always want to fill in there with, “you are a big darn racist.”)

                (I recognize the irony of my posting this anonymously – I’m a regular reader but not commenter, so no usual name to use. Just couldn’t resist.)

          2. Ellie H.

            I would not let into my house someone who arrived wearing blackface. But I agree that standards of offensiveness is a slippery slope.

            1. Katie the Fed

              Yeah actually I probably wouldn’t either. I have no idea how I’d respond in such a situation, because really, WHO DOES THAT?

      3. Melissa

        I don’t think you have to make guests feel welcome at the expense of feeling comfortable in your home, plus the effects that they may have on other guests.

      4. Anonymous

        Making your guests feel welcome = telling that person she was wearing an offensive comment and making your guests feel unwelcome.

    2. Melissa

      I think it depends on the circumstance and how you feel. I generally say something when I see someone at a social event in an offensive costume (it never ends well), and I also tend to speak up when someone has said something offensive or made an offensive joke. My intention isn’t to stir the pot but to make people recognize the problems in their ways, because too often people *don’t* speak up and people never change. But sometimes I don’t feel comfortable saying anything, and so I don’t. I think that should be your guide, too – you didn’t feel like it was appropriate, so you didn’t. And if you feel threatened or in a situation where you could lose your job or worse, then maybe you just have to let it go.

      1. Ellie H.

        I try to speak up too whenever possible, but yes there are sometimes circumstances in which regrettably, you really do not feel comfortable or that it is apporpriate to say something. For example, use of the word “retarded” as a general pejorative really bothers me and I pretty consistently (even on a first date) speak up when I hear it used as such, to say that I find it an offensive word and that it really bothers me. The only circumstances when I haven’t spoken up are when it’s been used by a direct supervisor (not my current supervisor fortunately). Unfortunately the world seems to be going the other way on that word.

    3. JustMe

      I’ve never been in that situation, so I can’t say for certain, but I would *hope* that I would invite my friend in, and at the first possible opportunity, pull him/her aside about it. Maybe something along the lines of, “I am so glad you came. I’m sure you didn’t mean to (hopefully if this person is a friend it wouldn’t have been intentional), but I can tell you right now that your costume is going to offend some people, including me. I/my spouse have/has some old clothes/costumes kicking around. Shall we go see what alternatives we can come up with?”

      That’s the best way I can think of. You’re not refusing your friend at the door or leaving them out to dry as to solutions for the issue, but you are also (hopefully) minimizing that person’s original costume exposure to the other guests.

  15. carlotta

    This actually happened at a Bollywood-themed work party I went to when for some unknown reason some ex-colleagues of mine decided to invoke the use of face-paint to look more Indian (the country). I told them it was racist. We had a discussion about it. Some people removed their face paint. We still had a good time. I love all things Japanese and would happily don a kimono, but the face paint and stuff is too far.

    Also here in the UK, we really only do spooky/evil character dress up for Halloween, it’s not fancy dress ‘in general’ which probably makes the blacking up even worse…

  16. Joey

    This is exactly why I forbid Halloween costumes. Too many people see nothing wrong with dressing as a terrorist or whatever is the flavor of the year without regard to workplace appropriateness.

    That said, if I were you I would just lay out the guidelines to the team. Something like “in keeping with the spirit of Halloween we encourage you to dress up. Remember that costumes should be appropriate for the workplace and in good taste. That means no costumes that might offend other employees, customers, clients etc. If you have specific questions or concerns about your costume please consult with your manager.

    1. Diane

      I agree that an early discussion of guidelines is in order. Since the OP is not the manager, I’d suggest asking the office manager to do so. As in: “Jen, I hear that Halloween costumes are a tradition here. I assume you’ll issue some guidance about appropriate costumes? I’m concerned because __.” (and that could be as direct as you like, from “I have concerns that some of my coworkers don’t realize their costumes are offensive” to “Some of the costumes I’ve seen are offensive” without reference to that specific workplace.).

      Ug, this sucks, OP.

    2. Elizabeth

      It sounds like in this workplace, you might need to be more direct. There are definitely people out there who would never dream that their “Indian” costume would bother anyone, and even plenty of people who would be upset if they realized they were wearing a costume that made others uncomfortable. (I doubt the blackface co-worker falls in this category, though…) A line like, “Dressing as a generic member of a specific culture, such as Native American, Roma (“gypsy”) or Mexican can inadvertently offend. Please choose a costume that is not based on a cultural group.”

  17. Adan

    I really tried to come up with a way to be as polite and professional as I can be but I am really sorry, are you truly kidding me. You find some costumes offensive because people dress up as other ethnic groups. It’s Halloween for crying out loud. Get over it. It’s 1 night and it’s not like they do it every single day.

    I hate to see this company get this rid of this even because of 1 individual who complain and is offended when a non-asian, non-indian or non-african american dresses up like those ethnic group. But funny thing is, you’re not offended when a man dresses up as a white woman or someone who dresses up as an animal.

    I am an individual who loves seeing people get into the spirits of Halloween and for some time are willing to have some fun and let their guard down.

    Get over yourself and I hate to say, if this type of environment is not for you, you may want to consider finding another company to work for.

    By the way, I am Mexican and I love it when other dress up as old Mexican women, Mariachis or come in traditional Mexican dresses. I find wonderful what people are willing to do for fun.

    1. fposte

      I think you’re presenting a false equivalency, though–plenty of people engage in the spirit of Halloween without costuming themselves in ways that will be public relations nightmares.

    2. Sophia

      Just because you’re Mexican, it doesn’t negate the historical oppression of what it means when a white person ‘dresses up’ as a member of an ethnic group. Would you still be as accepting if someone dressed up as a ‘Mexican/Chicano gangsta’? Even if you were, that doesn’t take away from society as a whole. Same thing – individuals don’t have to all be racist for a system to be. One white person not being racist doesn’t mean there’s no racism. Does this make sense?

    3. Elizabeth

      The Ohio State campaign linked above had a good tagline: “You wear the costume for one night. I wear the stigma for life.”

      Also, while you enjoy costumes based on your culture, some people find them hurtful. I don’t think your enjoyment trumps their feelings.

      I love Halloween, and love dressing up in costume. Fortunately, there are literally thousands of things I can dress up as that don’t involve stereotyping a culture.

      1. Randolph the alum

        Not to split hairs, but it was Ohio University, not Ohio State. Two very different universities! :)

    4. Mints

      Well, no, a white person can dress up as a non white person if it’s actually a person and not a caricature. I remember Lil Wayne tweeting a picture of a (white) fan who was him for Halloween. It worked, and was not racist because he was an actual person.(The costume included dreads, beater, grill, tattoos, and he carried the CD of the specific look he was copying).
      This is completely different than just a generic caricature of a black person, or wearing an Obama mask with a KFC bucket. One is a costume based on a person with a specific look, and one is the embodiment of harmful racist stereotypes

    5. iseeshiny

      Not to mention, just because you personally aren’t offended doesn’t mean that other people aren’t. Just like the dude who likes telling racist jokes has one black friend who says they’re hilarious doesn’t make the dude’s racist jokes ok, you can’t give permission to the whole world to dress like Mariachis. I mean, you totally can, but that only means it’s okay with you.

    6. Joey

      Adan, if you’re like me you grew up with traditional Mexican parents who didn’t see a whole lot wrong with referring to people by their color/ethnicity. Referring to people with inappropriate names like chino, negrito, guero, prieto, gabacho, etc. have been accepted for a long time in the Mexican culture.

    7. Ariancita

      Actually, I do get offended by men dressing up as generic women for Halloween. I’m not offended by cross dressers (typically straight men who like to dress in women’s clothes) or drag queens. But dudes who think it’s fun to “dress as a hot chic” for a costume do offend me. I’m offended by it every year. It feels like a mockery and it’s almost always a caricature. Now if they went as a specific woman (Marilyn Monroe, Hilary Clinton, Margaret Mead, Michelle Obama, etc), I wouldn’t mind. But generic caricatured woman? Yeah, I find it offensive.

    8. HV

      I totally agree, it seems like some people are looking for offense… It’s just a bit of fun, and you can never do right by everyone. There’s always someone who doesn’t like what you’re wearing (whether it’s halloween or just a normal wednesday).

      The main thing is that the people dressing up do it for fun, and not with racist intentions.

      1. Rana

        Eh. Intention matters when it comes to how you approach the offender, but it doesn’t mean that their actions – however innocently meant – get a pass. The classic example is someone stepping on another person’s foot; you may react one way if it was an accident, and another if it was a deliberate stomping, but either way a foot got stepped on, and someone got hurt.

        Decent people try not to step on feet (be racist) in the first place and apologize when they do it by accident or through ignorance.

  18. Liz T

    Can we also agree that “Geisha” and “G*psy” are supremely unimaginative costumes, and if that’s all you can come up with you might as well stay home?

    1. majigail

      Yup, right along with anything else that starts with “Sexy.” Sexy nurse, sexy vampire, sexy whatever. That’s my personal Halloween pet peeve.

      1. SB

        I don’t know, if you could find a way to portray “sexy whatever” I think that would be awesome, sort of as a spoof on how there’s a dearth of anything non-sexy for adult women (and increasingly teens and girls)

        1. Diane

          Yeah, the whole “sexy ___” drives me bonkers. Let’s take it a step further and combine it with other stereotypes: Sexy accountant. Sexy bad poet. Sexy crazy cat lady. Sexy computer programmer.

            1. Regular Gone Anon

              As a cat owner, I find your choice of costume demeaning and offensive. Please reconsider dressing up as a stereotype.

              (See how silly that sounds? It’s a legitimate concern, though, right?)

                1. Regular Gone Anon

                  No, it’s not offensive? So you’re going to tell me, a single female who owns 3 cats, who finds the term “crazy cat lady” offensive because it implies a derogative social stereotype on single women who own more than 2 cats, that it’s not offensive?

                  Wow.

                2. Forrest

                  I meant, no its not a legitimate concern. People who own cats are not an oppressed subgroup. And I think its odd that you’re putting up a decent defense for why it is offense while arguing that other things (that are much more serious and have a historical background of keeping entire races down) isn’t.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Re: crazy cat ladies … But don’t you see that there’s a difference between that and a group that has been systematically marginalized, abused, and even killed for who they are?

              2. Not so regular Anon

                While I think I get your point and if so somewhat vaguely agree, your feigned ignorance is not helpful…

          1. KJR

            Ah yes, having first a tween then a teen daughter, this was always a battle every Halloween…”you want to go as whaaat? Um, no.”

          2. Liz T

            We had a competition for a while (after we saw a man as a Slutty Ghostbuster), which was fought to a draw after two of my lady friends went as Slutty Pandas and my guy friend went as a Slutty Research Assistant.

      2. Elizabeth West

        Mine too, but just try to find a ready-made woman’s costume these days that isn’t sexy. Or isn’t made for someone who is five feet tall and weighs 100 pounds soaking wet.

    2. Kethryvis

      While a Roma costume may not be terribly imaginative, i have to say i have seen way more stereotypical Roma costumes at halloween than i have Geisha. To do a geisha right takes a LOT of work. Most folks aren’t willing to do that.

      1. Kethryvis

        (tho to be honest, when most folks picture geisha, they are actually picturing maiko, the apprentice-geisha. They are the ones who wear the elaborate makeup.)

        1. SB

          Have you been to Target recently? Their big thing for Halloween this year are these massive foam “wigs” there’s only a couple styles, and the only ethnic one was a “geisha”. I was very disappointed. Of all the really awesome things you could make into a foam wig (Marie Antoinette-hair anyone?) they chose a geisha wig.

          1. Kethryvis

            i stay away from the costume section. i get irritated :/ (not at anything racist, just whyyyyyy does everything have to have “sexy” appended to it?! Can’t i be fully dressed for Halloween? It’s freaking COLD out there!!)

          2. FormerPhotog

            Oh – my Target had an enormous pink Marie Antoinette, a Medusa, and a Bride of the Monster! They were all designed by Chris March from Project Runway

  19. SB

    I have been to any number of office Halloween parties, and never once was anyone crass enough to dress as a racial or gender stereotype and there were plenty of older people, people from less accepting backgrounds and, quite frankly, people who were known to be out and out racist.
    Part of the problem is when you go to the store, that makes up about half the costumes out there. It’s hard to prove a point of culture insensitivity when you go to the store and there are nothing but pimp costumes with afro wigs and sexy Indian princesses with feather headdresses.
    One office I worked in always sent out a letter prior to the costume party to be mindful of others when picking costumes and to keep it PC. No one thought it was a killjoy. To be quite frank, a store bought geisha costume would have been considered lazy as well as crass. The emphasis of the event was creativity and general hilarity. PS. I have the very best costume idea for this year

    1. Regular Gone Anon

      For my office party (not my social party) – I dressed as an overweight white man with glasses and a beard and pocket protector, etc. Please note that I am a white female. I had a name tag that said Sr Java Programmer or something. I work in IT. It went over quite well.

      Then again, it was a room of adults who understood that on Halloween, the costumes would have been a satirical statement about a stereotype, and not “blackface with big lips, speaking slang, behaving immoral and uneducated, eating chicken with one hand and watermelon with the other” blatant, intentional racism.

      1. SB

        I know a couple that work together that went as each other. One year there was a rather large man that went as Honey BooBoo. One place I worked allowed us to bring dogs, and I painted (non-toxic children’s hair dye) black spots on my massive dog and went as Scooby and Shaggy (I’m female). This year, as soon as I accumulate enough plastic sharks, I’m going as Sharknado! I can’t wait!

      2. Lucy

        One of our Customer Tech Support reps came last year as ‘Tech Support’. She wore a sari/bindi getup with a black wig and walked around with her telephone headset. It was definitely culturally insensitive but she won our costume contest.

  20. Victoria Nonprofit

    I obviously second (third, fourth, fifth, a hundredth) what everyone is saying regarding the inherent racism of dressing up in ethnic “costumes.” I think Katie The Fed, businesslady and others have got that covered.

    Here’s the only new information I have to contribute: God, I hate Halloween. I don’t like costumes, I think it’s a little weird how much other adults DO like costumes (but that’s my problem, not theirs, and I’m sure people find my obsession with So You Think You Can Dance a little weird, so I guess we’re even), I’m depressed by the rampant sexism and racism, etc. etc. etc. Let it just be over.

    1. Melissa

      I’m so glad someone else posted this and feels the same way. I have nothing against dressing in costumes or costume parties in general, but I hate Halloween. I hate how obsessed other adults are with it and how it leads to them making some really bad decisions. And I hate the debauchery. I worked for college student affairs for 2 years and we all used to try our hardest to avoid duty on Halloween (or the weekend nearby Halloween) because it was always such a horrible night, filled with intoxication hospitalizations, stupid fights and kids getting injured. Ugh.

    2. Elizabeth West

      I LOVE Halloween, but because I’m a horror fan. It’s all about monsters and scary movies (and candy–yes I still like me some Halloween candy) and carving a creepy pumpkin for me. I’m going to be hauling out all my skewwy DVDs this next month. And I got a million of ’em.

    3. Jamie

      I agree. I don’t think it’s weird so much as I totally don’t get it. If you are little enough to still look adorable in a fairy princess or batman costume I’m not immune to the cuteness…but there are very few years past getting your adult teeth where that still holds true.

      The constant doorbell ringing bothers my dogs.

      1. Chinook

        “The constant doorbell ringing bothers my dogs.”

        I have just given up on the animals behaving himself on Halloween. The cat gets locks up for a couple of hours and the dog and wolf are tied up to something sturdy inside the house and we we try to catch the door before someone rings the bell. The animals think everyone is coming to visit them and are as excited as the kids coming up.

        1. Jamie

          I can’t wait to be the little old lady whose home all the neighborhood kids avoid because she’s scary and they think it’s haunted.

          My husband, apparently running for some Mr. Congeniality contest somewhere, won’t even hear of turning off the porch light and pretending we died. Death is very in keeping with the Halloween theme, but he’s just not that deep.

          1. KellyK

            You can send me your trick-or-treaters. I love seeing small children in adorable costumes, and we don’t get any. (We’re kind of in the middle of nowhere, plus we live right on the highway, and I think parents right near us tend to take their kids into the little neighborhoods that are lower-traffic to trick-or-treat.)

            1. Jamie

              We live in the heart of suburbia on a treelined street just chock full of adorable moppets.

              We have never spent less than $125 on bags of candy and we never have any left (unless I hide some Almond Joys. And I do).

              (and Receses. I hide those too.)

            2. Victoria Nonprofit

              I actually agree with this: Even though I’m a Halloween Curmudgeon, I love trick-or-treaters and wish we got more. My disdain only applies to adults!

  21. Susan

    On privilege, from “Rage Against the Minivan”: Simply put, privilege refers to an unearned advantage. It usually refers to something inherent . . . something you were born with rather than something you worked for. There are many types of privilege: economic privilege, gender privilege, heterosexual privilege, and of course . . . racial privilege. Racial privilege can take many forms, from minor things to life-threatening things. White privilege can look like being able to grab some shampoo at the grocery store and being confident they carry products for your hair type. White privilege can look like being able to find a band-aid that matches your skin tone. White privilege can look like wearing a baseball cap and baggy pants and no one assuming you are a criminal.”
    http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2013/07/white-privilege-and-what-were-supposed.html

  22. Brett

    I ran a live action roleplay game with dozens of players for several years (even ran a 500+ player event at GenCon), so this is my experience in dealing with players who would show up in offensive or inappropriate costumes. My situation there was much easier because I was in a position of authority, and players could come to me if they had a problem with another player’s costume.

    The most critical thing to do is dress up too and be a good example with an interesting non-racist costume.

    If you are going to talk to someone on Halloween about their costume, remember that makeup is easy to take off in the bathroom. Clothing is not so easy to change. If someone is in blackface, you could actually tell them, “I’m not comfortable with the blackface makeup, when you get a chance, would you mind taking it off?” (Bonus if you are in makeup too and just happen to have a bottle of makeup remover that you can loan them.)

    If they show up in a geisha or native american costume though, you would be better off talking to them after Halloween. Our staff actually had a bunch of extra costumes on hand that we could loan out to players instead of sending them home. I do not think this would be an option for you (and it is expensive to do).

    Your best bet is to be proactive before Halloween. We discussed players character ideas ahead of time, and directed them away from concepts that were offensive or costuming ideas that were inappropriate (we had a much lower bar on appropriateness than an office environment). Share costuming ideas with people and talk with them about their costumes. No one is going to be locked in on an offensive costume at this point; only people with elaborate and creative plans will be locked in and those are very unlikely to be offensive concepts. If they have a couple of ideas, steer them away from the offensive one while helping them understand it is offensive.
    “I’ve seen so many Native American Princesses in the past, and really they come across as tacky because they are kinda offensive to Native Americans. Why don’t you try….”
    “You know, a geisha costume has weird connotations. I’m not sure that is a good idea for an office party. I can think of some neat things you can do with your other idea…”
    “Flavor Flav is a neat idea, but please drop the black face. I think the big clock and glasses will be enough for people to recognize you. You could get a gold viking horn hat too! Um, no, I will not dress up as New York.”

    Stereotypes in costumes are inherently uncreative. The more you encourage creativity, the easier it is to root out racism in costumes. The harder situations are “cultural” costumes that are not so much stereotypes, e.g. should a white women come to Halloween as a harajuku girl? My personal opinion is to lean towards having a thicker skin towards the concept and worry more about the implementation. Harajuku outfit? Probably let it pass, especially if they are going to put in lots of elaborate work. Harajuku outfit with yellowish fake tan and tape to slant your eyes? Not okay at all.

  23. Rich

    I think being the fun or party police is warranted here. I’d go to the office manager and point out that similar costumes have caused issues elsewhere (google it) and it may be good to put basic parameters around costumes. i.e. Please avoid ethnic costumes that may make your co-workers uncomfortable. If someone fights to wear blackface or dress as an Indian, there are bigger fish to fry.

  24. Allison

    I would talk to the manager about it and see if they can request that people refrain from culturally insensitive costumes like the ones you described.

    With that, I’m navigating away from this page and never looking back. the amount of people on here who really see no problem with these costumes, and accusing the OP of being “the fun police” or being “too sensitive” is making my blood boil. I’ve already been in one frustrating “debate” earlier today, I’m not up for another round of this . . .

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If it makes you feel any better, that’s been only two people, I think, which is actually lower than I might have expected. I’m actually heartened by how dominant the majority opinion is on this…

    2. Nodumbunny

      I just want to go on record that I’m not okay with these costumes (what could they possibly be thinking?) and I absolutely don’t think the OP should be silent or even hesitate to speak out about this. I do think it would be better to speak out beforehand, either in the moment directly to the people talking about their costumes or to the office manager/HR person – better to head trouble off at the pass than to wait until the offenders offend.

  25. Chinook

    Can I say something as someone who has dressed up as Japanese woman for Halloween? I own the actual kimono I wore and I wore it the way I wore it in Japan for one of the holidays there. I would be extremely insulted if someone came up to me and said that I was being racist for protraying a geisha when the real issue is what the perceive me to be doing. Does the fact that I am from European descent mean I cannot wear certain clothing that I legitimately own?

    1. Liz

      I think the issue in dressing up as a geisha for Halloween is that you’re putting on a cultural identity as a costume.

    2. Kaz

      Wearing a kimono, done up properly, and dressing up as a geisha are different things in most people’s eyes.

    3. fposte

      Sure, sometimes. You can legitimately own a Nazi uniform, a la Prince Harry, and still have your appearance in it be questionable. That’s not really a useful measure.

      But these things aren’t always cut and dried, either. What you’re talking about is interestingly ambivalent to me–you’re talking about justifying it on the basis that you have knowledge and experience that renders it specific, but dressing up as a “Japanese woman” seems to me to be genericizing a culture and an identity in a way that is questionable. Did the Japanese women you know always wear kimonos? If not, why is the kimono a Japanese woman rather than whatever else they wore? I know you’ve worked with Cree kids–would it feel different to you than dressing up as a “Cree woman” with clothes you bought at a store on the reserve?

      1. Chinook

        “Did the Japanese women you know always wear kimonos?”

        They often wore them for special occasions and holidays and I had one adult student who couldn’t wait to retire because she could then wear kimono all the time (she found it took to long to put in the mornign before work and made it difficult to manouevre in crowded buses). When I went to the Oban festival, I was the only westerner and there was only one other person dressed in kimono but my other friends wish they could have but they didn’t have time to change after work.

        “would it feel different to you than dressing up as a “Cree woman” with clothes you bought at a store on the reserve”

        Not at all, but not on the reserve as this would be considered every day wear (though I did dress up as a white male for Halloween). I own Cree beaded clothing and would have no issue wearing it for Halloween either, but I also am not wearing these items as a caricature and defintiely draw the line at changing my facial features with makeup. I think that is where it changes from costume to caricature.

        1. fposte

          But if it wouldn’t feel different to you than dressing up in Cree every day wear, why is being Japanese to you not Japanese every day wear? That to me is the part that makes me go “hmm.” It seems to me to be leaning towards exoticizing and orientalizing the difference between Japanese presentation and Canadian and then classifying that difference as a defining trait. I think for me it’s the self-naming that makes me uncomfortable–if you just put on your Japanese-bought stuff and wore them because it’s cool stuff and it’s a dress-up holiday, I wouldn’t blink at that. It’s calling a costume “Japanese woman”—even though it’s not what most women in Japan wear on a daily basis—and dressing in a way that taps into a long and unpleasant cultural history of outsider fetishization that makes me, as I said, go “hmm.”

          1. Chinook

            “But if it wouldn’t feel different to you than dressing up in Cree every day wear, why is being Japanese to you not Japanese every day wear”.

            The number one reason is that every day Japanese wear doesn’t come in my size (in the 18 months I spent there, the only thing I could really buy to wear were 2 kimonos). The second one is that their everyday clothing looked a lot like my office wear and nobody would get me dressed up as an “office lady.” Third, the yukata I own is the equivalent of a nice, cotton summer dress you would wear here for a summer gathering and the silk kimono the equivalent of my evening dress. I have contemplated wearing the evning dress for Halloween but I actually can wear it to formal events. If I showed up in full silk kimono, though, I would feel out of place in that setting because to would be beyond the cultural expectation for a western formal event (though I have been tempted to do it).

            1. fposte

              “The second one is that their everyday clothing looked a lot like my office wear and nobody would get me dressed up as an “office lady.””

              But that’s what I mean–if this is true, then a kimono isn’t actually emblematic of being a Japanese woman. It’s dressing up like a particular image of a Japanese woman that’s based on a lot of things, many of them not true and many of them ugly, and then calling it a Japanese woman even though that’s not the typical everyday dress of a Japanese woman.

              I’m not arguing that it’s evil, or that you’re being disparaging–you obviously loved your time there, I’m sure it’s a beautiful kimono, and I bet you look great in it. But there’s such a long history of the West picking and choosing what it decided Japan needed to be, whether it was or not, and then calling it “Japanese” (or just plain “Oriental”). It’s really hard to detach an individual use from that tradition.

    4. Melissa

      Well, of course you can wear your kimono that you own. But dressing up as “a Japanese woman” IS offensive, and just because you don’t intend to be offensive doesn’t mean you aren’t – intent isn’t magical. Someone’s ethnicity isn’t a costume. And it’s not what they perceive – you’re openly admitting that you’re dressing up as another ethnicity in a stereotypical way.

      1. Ford MF

        Oh man, this. I feel like this page has had a ton of “Well, I know for sure that I’M not racist, so why isn’t it okay for me to wear a racist costume? As long as I don’t feel racist in my heart, it’s not racist, right?”

    5. Liz T

      Wearing a kimono as clothing: not offensive
      Wearing a kimono as a “Japanese woman” costume: offensive

      Why would you feel insulted?

      1. Chinook

        “Wearing a kimono as clothing: not offensive
        Wearing a kimono as a “Japanese woman” costume: offensive”

        I am truly confused. With these rules, am I being offensive when I chose to wear my kimono for Halloween? I feel it would be more offensive for me to show up with it at work (even if it would have been suitable in that circumstance in Japan). To me, it would feel like I am trying to be pretend to be something I am not whereas the spirit of Halloween, the way I understand it, is a chance to be somethign you are not.

        1. Forrest

          I would think if you feel uncomfortable wearing it outside of one day where it can be seen as offense, that you’re not as comfortable wearing it as you claim.

          For what its worth though, there’s a lot more to being the offense stereotype of being a Geisha than just wearing a kimono. Are you painting your face? Putting your hair up in the same style? Why, if its just an outfit and not an embodiment of specific stereotype?

          For another what its worth, I own some kimonos because they’re beautiful and I love and respect the artwork that went into them. I also don’t wear them because of that reason. I do wear Westernize clothes that are inspired by them (wrap dresses/shirts)

        2. Liz T

          “With these rules, am I being offensive when I chose to wear my kimono for Halloween?”

          Yes.

          “I feel it would be more offensive for me to show up with it at work (even if it would have been suitable in that circumstance in Japan).”

          It would not be more offensive; your feelings do not reflect the reactions your actions would cause.

    6. Anonymous

      You can wear whatever you want – what you can take away from this discussion though is that it will come across poorly to some people. If wearing a Halloween costume is *that* important to you, then have at it.

    7. Ariancita

      I lived in India for a while. I speak the language. I own saris. I am white. I would never wear a sari for Halloween. Halloween isn’t about dressing up or wearing things you don’t normally get to wear regularly. It’s about costuming. The minute I put on a sari as a costume, I run the risk of making someone’s culture a caricature.

      This actually a real example. My birthday is near Halloween and I had a nice birthday party and wore a nice sari because I was dressing up. A well meaning friend at my party invited me to her Halloween party and said, pointing to my sari, “You can just wear that again for your costume.” I’m sure she meant well. But it was pretty offensive.

      I also own a kimono (a very very nice one) and have worn it for special occasions. I would also never wear that as a costume. Just my opinion.

      1. Lora

        +1

        My dad’s family is Amish. Out of respect for their religion, when I am visiting my Amish cousins over a weekend and I know church attendance will be involved, I wear a simple, long solid-color dress and a prayer covering with my hair in a bun. I would not dress up as an Amish woman for Halloween. That would be weird.

        Now, I would wear a sari in India, because that is what plenty of ladies wear on the street there and it’s normal clothes. Just like I would wear my birthday suit at Baden-Baden in Germany, or LL Bean in Maine.

        I suppose if I was really invested in dressing up like a Native American for Halloween I could wear a tee shirt and jeans. Because honestly, that’s what I’ve seen most of em wear…

        1. Ariancita

          I suppose if I was really invested in dressing up like a Native American for Halloween I could wear a tee shirt and jeans…

          LOL Love this! Reminds me of Christina Ricci’s portrayal of Wednesday in an old Addams Family (or Munsters…) where she wore her regular clothes for Halloween, stating she was dressed as a serial killer (or something similar) because they look just like everyone else. :)

      2. Woodward

        This! “Halloween isn’t about dressing up or wearing things you don’t normally get to wear regularly. It’s about costuming. The minute I put on a sari as a costume, I run the risk of making someone’s culture a caricature.”

    8. Hous

      Let’s say you went to a Gay Pride celebration with a friend, and the two of you dressed up for it, as many people do for Pride. You had a blast and loved the costume, but it’s not the kind of thing you feel like you have many opportunities to wear. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wearing the outfit on Halloween, but if you wore it and said you were dressing up as a gay person, I’d find it incredibly offensive. You’re taking something that is worn on a specific occasion and using it to stand in for an entire group of diverse people, and while you might not mean it to reduce them to a one-dimensional stereotype (gay people wear flamboyant costumes! Japanese people wear kimonos!), your intentions don’t cancel out what you’re actually DOING.

      Now, if you want to wear your kimono or Pride outfit on Halloween because you like it and don’t have many chances to wear t? That’s honestly a much better way of explaining it. But there will still be people (with the kimono especially, since a Pride costume’s origins may be less obvious) who don’t ask for an explanation and are going to think you’re being ignorant and reductive.

    9. Contessa

      This was my exact thought as well. I bought my kimono in Kyoto, and I have worn it for Halloween and two activities fairs during undergrad. I bought a kimono because I think they’re pretty, and I wear it because I like to wear pretty things. If someone told me I was being racist for wearing something because I think it is pretty, I would probably raise my eyebrows and inform them in Japanese that they are mistaken, I am just wearing an outfit I think is pretty.

      I don’t wear the kimono as everyday wear because it was expensive (more expensive than the business suits I get on sale), it is silk (and may be therefore be difficult to clean), it would be hard to replace if I ripped or stained it, and it is very difficult to put on without help (and my husband wouldn’t know how to help).

      When I wear my kimono, I’m not wearing a costume, even if it’s on Halloween–I’m wearing the Japanese equivalent of a formal gown. Why? Because occasionally getting all dressed up in formal attire is fun. Period.

      (but if I had a yukata like you mentioned you do, I would wear that all the time in the summer–they’re comfortable)

  26. Kethryvis

    *pith helmet on*
    (i’m an anthropologist, btw. So i “don” the helmet when i feel i need to get all, like, ethnographic and stuff.)

    So… geisha. Geisha comes from two symbols in Japanese: gei meaning “art” and sha meaning “doer.” So a geisha is an artist, or a “doer of art.” Geisha are usually women but believe it or not, there are men who are geisha. They are not silent ornaments, they are trained in an art (traditional music, dance, etc.) and conversation. While there is still some confusion and controversy over previous statuses as prostitutes, this is no longer the case. Geisha in Japan are some of the only people in Japan who still learn and practice traditional arts, and are 1) hardly wallflowers, or 2) needing white people to stick up for them and supposedly how they are viewed in their own culture. (if you want to read more, i suggest Liz Dalby’s book Geisha. She is an anthropologist who underwent geisha training and lived as a geisha for i believe one or two years. Or hit up the Wikipedia article, it’s pretty good.)
    *pith helmet 0ff*

    2) This reminds me a lot of some cosplay discussions, were people get fussy if they see, say, a black Sailor Moon character. Seriously, if you have a love and respect for a character/person (fictional or historical), who are we to say you shouldn’t cosplay/costume it? Isn’t saying “you can’t be that because you’re the wrong race” just another form of racism? If you’re respectful about it (which is hard to do with a pre-bought costume since, let’s face it, most of them are “sexy somethings”), then i say to hell with it and do it. And if someone gets upset, calmly explain your love and admiration, and why you’ve done what you’ve done.

    This stuff is hard, i agree. But my goddaughter loves to dress up in her Jasmine and Tiana costumes. Who am i to tell her she shouldn’t because she’s white?

    1. businesslady

      I think most people would agree that a white child dressing up as a nonwhite fictional character is fine–but painting their skin a different color would still cross a line.

      & the issue in question here is what should be done in a *workplace.* there are all kinds of rules about dress/behavior/vocabulary/etc. that are different when you’re among coworkers than they are in the privacy of your own home.

    2. Natalie

      Regarding #2, a couple of thoughts:

      Your goddaughter is dressing up a specific character with an identifiable outfit. That is different than smashing together a bunch of generic stereotypes about an enormous and diverse group of people and calling it a “Native American” costume. I also sincerely hope your goddaugher doesn’t put on blackface to play Tiana.

      1. Regular Gone Anon

        My goddaughter, whose mother is biracial and father is Filipino, likes to dress up as Tiana and understands that her skintone does not match Tiana’s. However, when she wears Tiana’s dress, she not identified as Tiana, but rather a generic princess.. or a generic princess with a frog if she carried around her frog toy. She’s 5. She’s upset that people don’t recognize her as TIANA, the princess with dark skin. We put darker foundation on her to darken her skin.

        THAT is not “blackface.” We were not parading this child around with fake big lips, “nappy hair” and entertaining everyone with a mockery.

        And everyone recognized her as Tiana after that.

        1. businesslady

          look, I’m certainly not the Racism Police, & I think most people will be focused on the cuteness of a little kid playing dress-up vs. the broader cultural implications–but, that said, I do think there’s something wrong with an adult (or even a teenager) changing their skin color with makeup in the service of a costume. many people find it offensive.

          obviously I’m not in charge of your life, but I’d strongly urge you to consider weaning your goddaughter away from that kind of play so that she won’t be confused about why people are bothered by it as she gets older.

        2. llamathatducks

          Here’s my view of this.

          There is a huge difference between caricature-based blackface and your goddaughter’s costume: the former is objectively racist in any context, whereas the latter, by itself, doesn’t make any value judgments about a particular race – so, absent a context of offensive blackface, it would be fine.

          But the history of blackface we DO have is so egregious that it has tainted any and all future attempts by white people to disguise themselves as people of color. It’s just going to bring up those associations in people’s heads. Seeing a white person changing their physical features to dress up as a different race is predictably going to make people think about blackface as it has existed in our history. Especially those people who are affected by past and ongoing racism.

          So while in a cultural vacuum that sort of costume would be okay, in our actual reality it brings up painful associations for a lot of people and makes a lot of people unhappy and uncomfortable. Knowing that, do you really want to insist on your right to wear whatever costumes you want even though you know that it will alienate many others?

          This may be “unfair,” but what’s much more unfair is the racism that has affected and continues to affect people of color. That’s a lot more important to focus on.

        3. Natalie

          How sad, that could have been a good teaching moment for both you and your goddaughter. I’m sorry you didn’t take advantage of it.

        4. Anonymous

          Holy crap. HOLY crap. There is no way you’re for real. I’m just saying that right now. Or at least I hope to every possible deity that you’re not.

          1. Anonymous

            And just so it’s clear – I’m not saying you’re 5 year old goddaughter is racist. I am saying that about you and everyone who didn’t try to help her use her imagination or even just teach her that sometimes she won’t get everything that she wants/talk about the history of racism, but instead indulged her despite the horrible social implications of doing so.

            1. Forrest

              THIS. And then we wonder why we’re discussing this right now about a workplace Halloween party.

              Things don’t exist in bubbles people!

        5. Sydney

          Or she could’ve carried a stuffed animal of the frog from the movie and everyone would’ve figured it out without blackface.

          1. Forrest

            Apparently she carried a toy.

            The horrifying thing to me is if people didn’t realize who she was based on the dress and a toy frog, that when they blackfaced her up people most likely were all “oh yea, the black disney princess.”

            The people that actually know would of gotten it without having to darken her skin.

  27. Anonymous

    I don’t immediately denounce ‘blackface’ as racist. I’m Black and I do understand the wholesale denigration of all Blacks that a ‘blackface’ was historically intended to convey. But those were those days and today things are different in some respect. Black public figures in sports or entertainment enjoy widespread admiration, bordering on worship, from non-Black fans who would don such a blackface, not to denigrate, but to affiliate themselves more closely with their Black idol(s).

    1. Katie the Fed

      OK, but there is certainly a context/history to it that should be kept in mind.

      I mean, in India there are swastikas all over the place because it’s a common Hindu/Sanskrit symbol, but I probably wouldn’t get a t-shirt in India with a swastika on it and wear it here in the US, harmless though the intent may be.

    2. businesslady

      I also must confess that I find this comment a little suspect–there’s along history of white people claiming to be otherwise in anonymous internet comments in order to advance racist ideology, & as far as blackface-as-costume goes, I’ve seen that done much more often to offensively depict generic characters (basketball player, rapper, thug) than actual specific individuals. it’s a little disingenuous to suggest that it’s generally done as a form of hero-worship.

      incidentally–as another example of the ways in which historical racism still affects us today–it’s interesting that you used the word “denigrate” twice in your comment, considering its etymology.

      1. llamathatducks

        It strikes me as problematic and disrespectful to question a person’s self-identification. There really is a lot of diversity of opinions on questions like this in pretty much any racial group or community (although certainly people of color are usually more sensitive to racial issues, simply because they’re the ones affected). And anyway it’s not necessary to claim that only white people think blackface is okay in order to explain why blackface is wrong.

        1. businesslady

          @Anon–no, & thanks for the chance to clarify. I’m saying that I’ve seen a lot of instances online where people have falsely claimed to be Black in order to advance a particular viewpoint.

          @llamathatducks–that’s true, & I probably shouldn’t’ve jumped to that conclusion. apologies.

    3. Jubilance

      It’s great that you aren’t personally offended, but that doesn’t negate the other people who are, or make their reaction any less than yours. Frankly, 1 offended person is 1 too many, when its so easy to avoid offending anyone by not engaging in blackface.

  28. Max

    Speak to the office manager about it. I’d advise against bringing it up directly to your co-workers – it’s incredibly difficult to point out how someone’s actions could be perceived as racist because they tend to take it as a personal insult and get EXTREMELY defensive about their behavior. They may not be very sensitive about racial issues, but no matter how you say it, they hear The best way to handle it is to have the racist costumes banned by a policy decision from above, preferably without even mentioning that a specific person complained about them. Your co-workers will almost certainly push back against any attempt to show them why their costumes are racist, they’ll stubbornly deny it and refuse to accept it to the end, and they’ll probably become tense or even hostile toward you. If you want to avoid a hostile workplace, it’s best for the decision to come down from the manager.

    If the manager refuses to handle it, or if the manager is part of the problem, then I don’t think there’s much you can do about it. You can try talking to people, but if the manager refuses to budge then it’ll just reinforce everyone else’s behavior. If the manager isn’t willing to push back against this kind of behavior, and your co-workers are unwilling to accept your arguments, then you might to seriously think about whether this company culture, where racially offensive behavior is tolerated or even encouraged, is the right fit for you. I really, really hate to have suggest that you might have to consider leaving your job due to the racist behavior of co-workers, but as far as I know, there’s no legal remedy you can pursue unless you can prove that people are discriminating against you specifically and that it’s affecting your job – otherwise, the only entity that has the authority to do something about this kind of thing is your company’s management.

    Of course, it’ll be great if your co-workers understand what they’re saying and refrain from wearing offensive costumes, but if they don’t, then you’ll have to be prepared to deal with the fallout.

  29. KM

    I certainly feel that you’re within your rights to bring this up directly with people, since it’s something they should be aware of and you have a right to express that you find it uncomfortable (as would I). HOWEVER, I understand why you might feel awkward, so here’s a suggestion for doing it more indirectly:

    If you’re in an office where it’s normal to send mass emails or forward articles (or even maybe if you’re not) forward everyone an article about why it’s not okay to dress as someone else’s ethnicity for Halloween (some have already been linked by other commenters on this post) and say something brief and neutral-sounding in the email, like, “I found this article really interesting — something to think about before Halloween!”

    If someone asks you about it after, though, be prepared to take a stronger stand and say that yes, it did make you uncomfortable when people were talking about their Halloween costumes and you’d like them to think about it a little bit more.

    To answer the unspoken question: no, there’s no way of saying this that guarantees everyone will still like you after. Whether you do it directly or indirectly, just be calm and respectful and know that being (potentially) disliked by some people is a price that you’re willing to pay.

    1. Loose Seal

      The problem with mass emails like that is that there are always those people that think the email doesn’t apply to them. Best bet is to be direct with HR now.

  30. EJ

    Admittedly I’m looking at all Halloween costumes through a fresh lens after all this discussion. I’m having a hard time coming up with a completely non-offensive Halloween costume, that doesn’t rely on any stereotype. Witches, princesses, doctors, anything ethnic, they all play on a subculture that is “real” to someone.

    Best suggestion I saw was directing the theme towards movie stars.

      1. Elizabeth West

        You HAVE to post a picture of that.

        We should have a Halloween thread. I probably won’t go anywhere (thus no costume), but I was planning on doing another shaved pumpkin this year. Last year I made a Cyberman pumpkin. :)

    1. fposte

      I think if it’s a professional subculture, which is chosen, that’s very different from a generic racial/cultural depiction.

    2. llamathatducks

      But not all “subcultures” are oppressed groups. And I think there’s a big difference between a doctor – something one chooses to be, involving a great deal of study and preparation, and also doctors are generally respected – and a race, which is just about one’s physical appearance (and culture, to an extent) and has nothing to do with any other personal traits.

    3. Sarah

      I think you’re painting this way too broadly- unless doctors have been oppressed for hundreds of years? It’s not that every single costume pretending to be someone else is offensive, it’s that putting on the identity of an oppressed group can be a mockery of that group. Think critically about what the costume would say.

      A Wiccan friend of mine recently posted to her Facebook a cosplayer dressed up as an Autumn Fae. She loved the costume which took in certain elements of nature that she holds sacred. Oppressive? No. Awesome costume? Yes.

      1. Anon

        Is anyone here a Wiccan who would be offended by a witch costume? This is the first time I’ve heard anyone say that witch costumes are offensive, although admittedly I only know one or two Wiccans. The comments above say that this could be offensive, but I’m wondering if anyone here would actually be offended by a pointy hat on Halloween.

        1. Anon

          Oh boy. I’m from Salem, MA and the Wiccans there are SERIOUSLY up in arms all the time about pointy hat witches. I mean, it’s caused massive issues almost every year for Haunted Happenings, the city’s month-long Halloween celebration in October. One of my relatives has done graphic design work for the event and it’s very, very important to be careful in how witches are depicted in those materials (honestly best not to show them at all, even though it’s Salem).

          1. Jazzy Red

            Oh, come on now! Wiccans CHOOSE to be “witches”, just like some people choose to be Democrats or Republicans.

            1. Jamie

              I think it’s the religious thing that bothers people.

              Several years ago someone at work dressed up like a priest. He was formerly Catholic but now an avowed atheist and he would make it a point to talk about how there was no God…while dressed as a priest.

              He thought he was a lot more clever than anyone else did.

              1. The IT Manager

                I have been thinking this whole thread about the preganant nun and her pimp priest costumes at party I attended years back. It wasn’t at work or a work event though so I suppose they get a pass. Young twenty-something guys – both of them.

                At that same party there was a guy in a kilt dressed as Mel Gibson from Braveheart. Is that culturally insentive of him and offense to real Scotts?

                I dislike halloween, have no desire to dress up, and draw attention to myself by being ridiculious so I do not understand why peole care so much.

        2. Chinook

          I am not Wiccan but I am aware of any costumes that are based on religious figures. If you were unaware that Wicca is a real religion, then you would be excused for dressing up as a witch but, once you know, it is hard to excuse it.

          And don’t get me started on “sexy nun” and various costumes that imply priests are pedophiles/rapists or mock the pope.

            1. KellyK

              Not my religion, so I’m not the person who should make this call, but it seems to me like a very different thing because they’re fictional characters (and not at all related to the religious practice of Wicca).

              I mean, I can’t picture anyone feeling like dressing up as Lucy Pevenise is a slam on Christianity…

            2. Ford MF

              I think an important distinction is that while Wiccanism is a real religious thing that a real person might be, no one in Harry Potter, including the main character, is a Wiccan. “Fictional person who has supernatural powers” is not the same thing as “actual person who is a member of a real real religion bearing superficial resemblance to fictional people”.

            3. Chinook

              From what little I know about Wiccan, male witches are called “warlocks” (I think) whereas Harry Potter used the term “witch” as the female version of “wizard.” I think you are safe as long as your Hogwarts teacher doesn’t have green skin, a pointy nose and/or warts (but all three of those together makes you the Wicked witch of the West).

              I also think Harry Potter’s universe interprets witchcraft as a skill and not a religion.

              1. Laufey

                So, literature/movie witches/wizards/warlocks = okay, but the typical stereotypical Halloween witch costume – black cape, pointed hat, broomstick – is not? It just seems weird, because for me, that type of witch has nothing to do with Wicca, either. Admittedly, I’m not a Wiccan, so maybe my judgment is clouded.

                1. Laufey

                  I think she would be covered by the literature/movie witch category. I’m more referring to the just a generic, uncopyrighted, untrademarked witch of the myth/legend/scary story type and not the actual person with Wiccan beliefs.

              2. Cathy

                Witches come in both genders, male and female. Warlock is derived from an old English/Scottish word meaning ‘oath-breaker’. It is hugely offensive to call a male witch a warlock.

                If they are practitioners of High Magick, they may refer to themselves as sorcerors, but I think that’s rather rare.

    4. Rayner

      Not really. For example, doctors can be of any gender, ethnicity, and orientation – so you’d pretty okay with one of those.

      Dressing up in blackface has a history of mockery, oppression of black people, and racism. Do you see the difference?

      One is just a generic, neutral costume. The other is a pointed reference insulting to a entire race of people based around white people historically having power over black people, mocking culture, traditions, appearance, and whole hosts of other things.

      1. Chinook

        “For example, doctors can be of any gender, ethnicity, and orientation – so you’d pretty okay with one of those. ”

        I have heard this in theory but I have never actually had a Canadian born doctor as my doctor. Irish, South African, East Indian, Middle Eastern? Yes. Someone who speaks with the same accent I do? Nope. But, then again, maybe the locally raised doctors prefer workign in the big city?

        1. Rayner

          Just because you have experienced a person from your area as a doctor, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

          A lot of British doctors are from other countries, particularly in large cities or areas with high ethnic minorities. But it doesn’t preclude or prevent British doctors from existing or practising in those areas. I guess they go where the work is and the money.

    5. RJ

      I tend to agree. The stated rules at my workplace are no masks, and no costumes that are “grossly horrific, profane, or sexually suggestive.” There go your zombies. So I think we all have to dress up like lions to be acceptable.

    6. Editor

      I wonder if the increasing emphasis on Halloween and the reliance on commercial costumes has created a lack of imagination. I can sew, so I always used to scrounge for costumes. My most successful was the year I made a sort of baptismal robe out of old white sheets and a head covering out of more draped white sheet with a Christmas candle ring stitched on the top of the head (6-inch circle of plastic poinsettia foliage and holly — kind of tacky looking up close). I went as the Ghost of Christmas Past from A Christmas Carol, and I got a lot of attention because the white fabric over my face with eyeholes made it hard to identify me. I did eventually have to tuck back part of the headcover in order to eat.

      One year I wore a vintage dress that had been hanging in the attic of a house we’d just bought. It was a long, formal gown in orange and cream rayon crepe with a turquoise and cream beaded jacket. I got tons of compliments and questions, and I would recommend interesting vintage fashion as a costume anytime.

      People can go as animals, vegetables, fruit, flowers, tools, non-stereotypical fictional characters, musical instruments, and other kinds of things that are not offensive. The ambivalent-about-costumes tween boy next door and his friends have worn their hunting camouflage and army surplus helmets to portray a group of generic soldiers the last few years, and recently I’ve seen adult men wearing lightweight costumes that look like firefighting gear.

      That said, I loathe dressing up in costume for work. I think any office that encourages costumes should reconsider. I do not enjoy going into my bank on Halloween to see the tellers wearing weird stuff, nor am I interested in seeing the cashiers at the grocery store in costume. I do enjoy giving out Halloween candy and seeing local families come by, and I think my region’s obsession with age limits for trick-or-treat is silly (and their obsession with scheduling trick-or-treat night on the last Thursday of October is ridiculous, but that custom seems to be changing). Plus, holding back some of the Almond Joy bars is also a tradition at my house.

    1. Melissa

      YES. This is a Halloween-costumes-at-work thing I could get down with.

      Then your boss could be Darth Vader, and your boss’s boss could be the Emperor.

      1. Liane

        The Force is with me–this is the best opening I’m going to get for my comment! I work at a place that allows us to dress up if we want & while I don’t have Stormtrooper armor, I will be in my Jedi robes. The very same ones I wear when doing charity appearances with the Rebel & 501st Legions, except I’ll have a toy lightsaber on my belt instead of carrying my high-class replica. If I brought it, I’d be spending all my time keeping customers and coworkers from trying to play with it!

    1. anon paper salesman

      +1, I have been thinking that this whole time! I feel like there must be something like this in a Halloween episode…

  31. anon

    Honestly, I think all people could do a little bit better about not being so offended over every little thing. If someone dresses up as a basketball player they probably aren’t doing it to make fun of that race. Get over it or go be offended on your own. Just because you choose to be offended doesn’t mean that everyone else has to care.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Actually, in a workplace, in many cases they do have to care.

      But even aside from that, why wouldn’t you attempt to avoid offending large chunks of the population, particularly given how easy it is to do? Why wouldn’t you choose thoughtfulness, given the choice?

    2. businesslady

      blackface–or brownface, or any other portrayal by a white person of a race or ethnicity that is not their own–is offensive, full stop. comments implying that it’s a matter of perspective is like saying, “well maybe I didn’t mean to hurt you when I slapped you in the face. you’re the one whose nerves chose to experience pain as a result.”

      1. Anonymous

        Listen, if your costume doesn’t work unless you paint your face to match the “race,” your costume isn’t that good.

    3. Melissa

      1. Why do people always use the “choose to be offended” line? Do you choose to get hurt when someone steps on your toe? Who would choose to feel hurt and angry over something?

      2. Nobody said anything wrong with dressing up as a basketball player. What’s wrong is painting your face black while doing it, because my race is not a costume.

      3. Also, this one I am genuinely curious about – why do folks like you always get so incensed at the idea of *not* potentially offending anyone? There are seriously hundreds of costumes people can choose from, and the majority are not racist. Why would you choose to hurt someone’s feelings just because you can (even if you don’t think they should be hurt) instead of just wearing a different costume and everyone having fun?

      1. BCW

        You do choose to be offended by things. Its like the movie Airplane (which in fairness mocked many groups). There was a scene where a woman had to speak Jive. I’m sure some people thought it was racist. I (who is black) thought it was hilarious, and stereotypical. We saw the same thing. Its like looking at a glass as half full or half empty, in the more optimist vs. pessimist sense. Or will you say people don’t choose how to see things then either.

      2. Rana

        I’m with you on #3 particularly, Melissa. I find it interesting that people get so worked up about being told that some people are offended or hurt by people with privilege wearing problematic costumes. I find myself wondering – is this really the hill you want to die on? Your right to wear something offensive one day a year? When it is so easy to avoid being inadvertently racist or cruel to someone, just by wearing something different? Is it really that hard? Really?

        There’s a point at which the lady protests too much, is what I’m saying.

  32. MiketheRecruiter

    This is why I’m coming to the office dressed as Batman. If anyone has a problem, I’ll tie them up and hang em from a gargoyle til inspector Gordon shows up.

  33. CubeKitteh

    Ok, I’m going to throw my hat in here at my own peril. I think the bigger issue is not the costume itself, but the lack of knowledge or more likely awareness of the significance and impact it can have. There is dialogue here that the OP needs to have with her office regarding the frivolty that surrounds this particular holiday. Most folks use it as an excuse to put on a mask or cross a line in which under normal circumstances would not be tolerated. We as a culture, are rather dismissive of such offenses on Halloween when we would not be otherwise. I have seen it multiple times and have heard it dismissed as “Lighten up. It’s Halloween.”
    Most people don’t set out to offend. They think of it only as being funny, cute or clever without full awareness that yes, this costume might hurt, alienate or offend another. The issue truly is not so much the costume itself, but rather the lack of awareness of what is appropriate and the culture that that such things can be and are utterly disregarded on this one holiday. If a workplace is going to allow costmes, there do need to be ground rules in place to promote a safe atmosphere for participants and non-participants.
    I should add that I am a costume designer and avid cosplayer outside of my career. I spend an extraordinary amount of time researching and building costumes, historical and fantasy.

    1. Anon_00

      I absolutely agree. Excellent points made in this comment. I think (and hope) that most people are just ignorant of the impacts of their choices and not truly racist. I hope that if this is brought to people’s awareness they will realize the the impact of their costume choices.

    1. Rayner

      Yes, we should let racist, sexist stereotypes go because it’s a holiday that’s been appropriated for commercial values held during company hours on company property where clients, customers, and other members of staff may see and be offended because, you know, their culture and history is being ripped to shreds by ignorant white people.

      Yes, we should let offensive, hurtful appropriations of culture go unnoticed, uncommented upon, and unexplained because it’s a ‘holiday’.

      Yes, we should let people make mockeries of centuries of other societies in the name of drinking and having a good time.

      Sure.

      Because it’s HALLOWEEN, right?

    2. Melissa

      It doesn’t matter – the fact that it’s a holiday doesn’t give people the pass to be racist and denigrate other people. Anywhere, especially at the workplace.

      1. HannahS

        Exactly! The rules of human decency don’t change just because it’s Oct. 31 instead of Oct. 30. Halloween changes three things:

        1) It’s OK to not look like yourself on Oct. 31
        2) It’s OK to eat lots of candy and have weirdly-coloured drinks on Oct. 31
        3) It’s OK to go to parties and do 1) and 2) with other people on Oct. 31 (or the weekend of)

        Every other rule still stands. Even the ones (GASP) about how you’re not supposed to be horribly mean, uncaring, or dismissive to other people.

    3. Katie the Fed

      You realize that if the business does “let it go” and say, posts pictures on facebook of this super fun day, and one of those pictures gets picked up by a Redditor, they could be put out of business, right?

  34. Marigold

    I’m going to dress up as a White Person for Halloween. I’m going to wear a flannel shirt, jeans, drink Diet Coke, and listen to NPR on the way to work. I’m going to forget to turn down my cell phone so Journey plays when someone calls in the middle of a meeting. And for lunch, I’ll go through the Wendy’s drive thru, lol.

    1. Anonymous

      Well as long as we’re being silly about this, you are mixing your types. No NPR for your costume-crank the Led Zeppelin or classic rock station.

      1. another anon

        And the diet coke really belongs to a “white girl in college” costume – throw on some yoga pants and uggs and grab a starbucks mug ;)

        1. yet another anon

          Don’t forget the North Face fleece! And put your hair in a messy bun.
          I’m a young white woman who looks like this regularly. Maybe I’ll buy some Uggs and call it a Halloween costume.

  35. Anonymous

    I think the number of comments and opinions on this subject indicates pretty clearly how difficult this subject will be to discuss with your coworkers, and how unlikely it is that you will have your thoughts heard. Everyone has a different opinion of what is racist: your experiences and background are a defining factor in determining your feelings. I have two friends with at least some Native American heritage. One thinks Pocohantas anything is offensive. The other is a huge Redskins fan.

  36. Anonymous

    Omg you all are giving me a headache.

    While I certainly think blackface is incredibly offensive, the over sensitivity on the some of this stuff is nonsense. My group of colleagues and closeasthis friends come a a variety of ethnicities. We don’t freak out if someone describes skin color (white or black), nor do we infer racism at every turn.

    However, OP, your co-workers are asshats. Tell them to knock it off.

  37. Kay

    I’m not going to rehash everything that has been said, aside from the societal implications and cultural appropriation these costumes are horrifically bad choices at the workplace. What a way to make people feel uncomfortable and small.

    I also agree with the people above about disliking Halloween. The only costume I’ve ever really enjoyed was when I dressed up as Harpo Marx.

  38. Liz in a library

    Ok, seriously…why not just consciously choose to not do things that others have said are offensive to them? You don’t even have to agree that they are offensive, but why all the time and effort put into declaring your right to offend others? Costumes are not that important people. Let’s all go dress up as refrigerators and cats instead.

    If many people find your costume offensive, isn’t that reason enough to just not wear it?

    1. BCW

      Because everything is offensive to someone. Thats where the problem comes. Old women in my neighborhood may be offended by girls being a “sexy” cat, because “In their day….” With that said, I think you have to consider where you are going. If you know you have a very conservative workplace then plan accordingly.

      1. Forrest

        See, I think that falls under slut-shaming.

        I still maintain if we all wear (nonsexy) cat costumes, our society will be better as a whole.

        1. BCW

          I wouldn’t call it slut shaming. Its like older people not like guys wearing sagging jeans. It wasn’t prevalent in their day and they don’t like it. Its fine.

          But if everyone should be a non-sexy cat, why shouldn’t everyone wear only 1 piece bathing suits, and things like that. Times change, people need to change with the times.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Sure, everything may be offensive to someone, but it’s really not hard or inconvenient or upsetting to decide that we’re not going to mock or denigrate whole cultures or races. That seems pretty easy and straightforward, actually.

  39. Lanya

    Most Halloween costumes are going to be offensive to somebody, somewhere. If it’s not the race factor, it’s the gore factor, or the weapons factor, or the scary factor, or the sexy factor, or the historically-inaccurate factor.

    With all due respect to the OP, if your coworkers’ potential costume choices bother you this much, you might make more ripples if you choose to abstain from the festivities by not showing up that day and explaining why after the fact, than being the “fun police” before the fact.

  40. Regular Gone Anon

    Full costume of ANY kind is inappropriate for a public-facing workplace. I don’t want to pull up to a bank on Halloween and be greeted by a green, wart nosed witch with a pointy hat and nails so long she can’t count my bills. Full costume just isn’t professional for the workplace in my eyes.

    Now out and about, social gathering, non-work-related? Lighten up JUST A LITTLE BIT. No need to burn the witch (pun intended). Wearing brown makeup does make you “blackface,” wearing a stethlyscope does not make you a doctor, and wearing a mohawk does not make you a punk. If there was obviously no intend to harm, discriminate, disclude, offend, disadvantage, mock, etc then, socially, let it go for Halloween.

    Or barricade yourself in and lock the doors, close the windows, and turn off the TV for the day.

    1. Forrest

      But how are we supposed to tell the people who mean to harm, discriminate, disclude, offend, disadvantage, mock, etc from those who don’t?

      Too complicated! Cat costumes for all!

        1. Forrest

          How about we just listen to people from the culture when they say their offended, play it safe and pick one of the other 1,000+ of nonoffense costumes?

          1. Regular Gone Anon

            I don’t judge people’s choice of costume as a direct reflection of their personal character on a holiday, and even as offensive as it may be, it’s their right to wear it (socially). It may be crude and distasteful, crossing a social line, but ya know… it’s Halloween and I don’t take much stuff seriously on Halloween.

            And if you don’t want to be around people like me, then don’t come to those parties unless you’ve got your Adult Pants on and behave civily. Or go home if you’re offended.

            1. Jamie

              But the thread is about costumes at work. People don’t go to work because they want to hang out with you socially…they go because they have bills to pay.

              And a company should have a vested interest in not offending customers as well…at least you’d think.

              I don’t get why it’s so important to you to defend the right to offend people. Even if you don’t think they should be offended…they are. It’s work, they have to be there – why piss off a captive audience.

              I just don’t get why the right to wear something offense to a large swath of the population is the battle to fight.

            2. Forrest

              You realize that institutional racism is a real thing right? And the attitude that “its just Halloween! Lighten up oppressed minority” isn’t just restricted to one day right?

              Meaning people who are ok with putting down or making fun of other cultures don’t just turn it off the rest of the year.

            3. ella

              As you say: it’s an individual’s right to wear whatever he wants, within dress codes and decency laws. It’s my right to be offended and to voice that offense. I don’t get where you get the idea that the offensive get to run the world, go to the parties, or whatever, and those who are offended have to hide in their houses. It’s my world as much as yours.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit

      Your examples have gone awry here: You’re right that wearing a stethoscope does not make you a doctor and wearing a mohawk does not make you a punk. Likewise, wearing blackface does not make you black. It makes you racist.

    3. Chinook

      “and wearing a mohawk”

      For a brief moment I had this image of rather large native Canadian strapped to your back and couldn’t help thinking that wopuld guarantee a tomohawk to your brain!

    4. ella

      I love how “some people are literally afraid to go outside because of how they’re judged by others” is more preferable to you than “I’m going to make an effort to not be an asshole.” Just what kind of world are you interested in creating?

  41. BCW

    This is tough, because I think there are different levels of what is “bad” and what is acceptable. One would think that even in a work place it would be easier, but its really not since what offends one person of a certain ancestry may not offend another. So someone’s Asian friend can say that a Geisha costume is perfectly fine for a white woman, however your white co-worker could think its bad. As a black man, I get that blackface is considered racist. On another note if a white guy put his hair in braids and dressed as Lil Wayne, most people would be ok, but if they said they were dressed “ghetto” people would have a problem with it. It goes further. Am I considered racist because I go out on Cinco de Mayo with a sombrero on and drink tequila or margaritas? Or what about for wearing all green, a red wig, and drinking Jameson and Guiness on St. Patrick’s day? But, I totally disagree with all these people trying to ban costumes. I think sometimes letting people have their fun is fine. Maybe a better way would be just a frank discussion of what is and isn’t acceptable. (As an aside, there were 350+ comments when I got here, so I didn’t read them all)

    1. Miss Displaced

      Sometimes the costumes are not meant to denigrate a particular, but celebrate it!

      I’ve dressed as a “gypsy” many times for the Renn Fair (I also read Tarot cards) and also as pirate Grace O’Mally even though I’m not Romani or Irish. What if I chose to dress as ancient Greek or Roman in a toga and sandals even though I’m not Greek or Italian… Should I be barred from dressing as Egyptian Queen Nefertiti or Isis because I’m not black?

      1. Katie the Fed

        Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Egypt are all civilizations that no longer exist. And they were empires, never exactly marginalized.

        Romani people still exist, and are still very marginalized throughout Europe.

  42. Pussyfooter

    Ok people, lay some comprehension on me:

    1) Is any skin darkening “black-face”, or just the really bad, mocking kind where people leave big, fake eye holes and mouth holes–like in old movies?

    2) Black-face and mocking stereotypes are mean, but I don’t see how wearing a historical recreation of a Yakama Native American dress (outstanding beadwork, elegant porcupine “dangles”, on a soft leather ground) is mocking or mean. It’s beautiful. I want to be beautiful. I don’t get it.

    3) I also don’t see a problem with dressing like a Geisha (they aren’t an ethnicity; they are an epitome of beauty and a particular, high class career within Japan). I don’t get this either.

    1. Katie the Fed

      1) I would just steer clear of darkening the skin in general for costume purposes.

      2) It sounds beautiful, but perhaps the context of Halloween isn’t the most appropriate place for it?

      3) See above answer to 2. Also throw in the context of orientalism and western fetishizing of Asian women. Questionable territory.

    2. Rayner

      Because if you are not of a culture, and choose to dress up in it without permission especially for something like Halloween or a party, you are appropriating it.

      Because what you’re saying is “let me wear these garments which are considered sacared/very high ranking/extremely socially laden with meanings that I do not understand because I want to even though they don’t belong to me, my culture, and they in fact belong to a culture that has been historically oppressed, demeaned, and insulted to the point of near extinction in some parts.”

      It’s so beyond insulting that it hurts.

      And geisha costumes are classic fetishisation of Japanese women. It’s cultural cherry picking, ignoring the massive historical context that the profession has behind them, and ninety nine percent of people who pick up a crappy Geisha costume at the store do not understand or value what they are taking away.

      And re: blacking up – any time that you have to significantly alter skin colour to fit an outfit to ‘match’ it, you need to seriously consider what you are doing. And you probably shouldn’t. At all.

      1. Pussyfooter

        Rayner,
        I hope you are not hurt by my question? When I said “costume,” I had “historical costuming” in mind. Recreations of respect-worthy, non-religious objects–not themed near-lingerie worn to drunken free-for-alls. Not every costume is a cheap, sexualized knock-off, just as not all parties are superficial get-togethers of strangers.

        Come to think of it, I bought a necklace at the Macaw Tribe’s museum in Washington state. Is wearing it disrespectful–or does their permission negate this?

        1. Rayner

          I’m not hurt.

          I’m frustrated that people don’t seem to understand the connotations and actual history of the ‘costume’ – whether a ‘authentic’ one or a cheap store version.

          Let me ask you this in order to continue this – and it’s not to insult or to hurt – do you identify as Amerind or Native American etc?

          1. Pussyfooter

            Ah, I see you’re having some of the same difficulty as me getting your posts to cooperate tonight.

            I’m white, btw.

            1. Rayner

              I think there’s so many people commenting, it can’t keep up with it.

              And since you answered my question – for which I thank you – yes. It’s wrong.

              You are white, attempting to portray in a realistic fashion the national dress of a culture which has been oppressed, hurt, and marginalized for centuries by white people. It’s… If you had permission from a tribe or nation or group (not quite sure how to phrase that) from doing important mutual work with them, or being married into the culture, then I think it would be different.

              But I’m assuming that you are not, and they have not given you that permission.

              Your intention is good. And I am absolutely sure that you would never intend to hurt, harm, offend or in anyway tread on people’s toes.

              But I don’t think intention can override the cultural implications of what you’re doing. A white person – who by default in American society has had more cultural power over Native People – borrowing, without consultation and more usually genuine understanding, national dress which is highly privileged and has huge connotations.

              None of which are particularly good.

              But I just realised I may have been reading you wrong – when I saw dress, I saw ‘costume’ as in national dress. As in, you were going to dress up in full headdress, dress, leggings – the complete outfit.

              O.O

              Hence the above response.

              On the other hand, if it was a single piece or an item, I recommend an article such as this:

              http://alchemistsclosetarticles.blogspot.fi/2013/05/why-wearing-native-inspired-fashions-is.html

              which had this in : ” Should non-Native folks genuinely wish to appreciate Native artistry, it may be useful to consider purchasing goods that have been offered for sale by a Native artist or craftsperson who is connected to his or her community. There have been some excellent articles published about how to go about this (Here’s one from Jezebel). (Links not intact)”

              I think that more covers your situation here, than what I was previously reading. I think if you buy things, the necklace that you mentioned from Native tribes, and don’t seek to entirely replicate it, it’s a different ball park.

              When you buy from Native stores etc, you put money back into their community, and wear their designs as they choose, so they still have some control – e.g. the patterns are acceptable to them to be sold to anyone, not picked off of something that is too significant, and they retain income from it, rather than losing it.

              Historical accuracy may still not entirely be what you’re aiming for with the dress but that’s something that you need to gauge for yourself, thinking about the implications I mentioned above about appropriating culture. If you can, I do suggest talking to people from the exact tribe, nation, or group you’re framing the dress from, because you can get their opinion on it.

              And ask yourself – why exactly am I copying this, and what do I want to bring to the dress? If the answer is to look like that you are, or to make the dress appear to be Native American, then maybe you’d be better off not, or looking to purchase something from a maker or craftsperson who is Native American.

              My apologies for being horrified before :D

              Also, LONG COMMENT. Sorry D:

              1. Pussyfooter

                Thanks.
                Wish I had directed some of my questions up thread to you instead.

                I’m uncomfortable with not being able to agree with everything you and The Fed said, while also not disagreeing. I need lots more exploration of this big ball of issues to decide which things I’m ok with and which I’m not. Thank you again.

                1. Rayner

                  When you start unpacking things like white privilege, cultural appropriation, subtle racism, and other big issues like that, yeah. There’s a lot to deal with and yes, you won’t like it or agree with everything but a lot of it is quite close to home.

                  It’s a learning curve and it’s not a pleasant one usually. I experienced that unpleasant feeling of being caught unawares of how this kind of thing works for me even though I didn’t ask for it.

                  But I’m glad you listened to me and the Fed and even if you don’t agree, you’re willing to go and do more exploration. That’s awesome. And I’m really happy about it :D

                  I do suggest reading some essays on it, or finding blogs articles which deal with specific issues like this, especially by people of colour. B*tch media at http://b*tchmagazine.org/ – without the asterisk – rounds up and has articles on important issues to women (especially women of colour). And there are plenty of links and articles referenced ALL OVER this epic post.

                  It will certainly start you thinking about things, and even if you decide to go ahead, you’re going ahead with understand and information, rather than just blind.

                  (Only asterisked otherwise it’ll flag me as being rude and trolly)

                2. Pussyfooter

                  “rude and trolly”–you crack me up :)

                  When I first stumbled into modern racism this summer, I spent about a month researching the heck out of it. I’m pretty angry about being tricked by pro-racist people into unknowingly supporting institutions of racism (I think lying by omission and deliberate manipulation of my life–so I’m basically their pawn–is pretty seriously evil to me as well as their racial “targets”). At this point I have some specific racist topics I wish I had time to research right now–that whole Bacon’s Rebellion aftermath thing, government policies, etc.

                  But off the internet, in the real world, I want to treat the real, living people around me well right now. So I really wish there was a blog like Alison’s that focused on day-to-day racism, with lots of frank, thoughtful opinions and suggestions between everybody. I think I’m trying to say I’m craving more practical advice, rather than more editorials and overviews. (B*tchMedia– and MomSoap–are great, but not enough discussion for my craving.)

                  If you find something like this someday, please post it on Aam, so I might find it too?
                  (I better remember to do that if I find one first.)

              2. Chinook

                “If you had permission from a tribe or nation or group (not quite sure how to phrase that) from doing important mutual work with them, or being married into the culture, then I think it would be different.”

                But what if your family background includes that culture but you weren’t raised that way but, instead, to blend in the “local” culture? This is not me picking at straws but a reality of where I live where those of us with mixed cultural backgrounds who were raised around one or two prominent cultures that we are not at all connected to by blood and even have family members who look “racially” different. I may look Irish (and yes, there is a “look”) but my brother, when he gets a little sun, looks Metis (which is mixed native/white), and my grandfather looked “generic native” but was French Canadian. The culture growing up was, in one town, Cree and French while the other town was Ukranian (dancing and food) and I have very close friends that lived with us who were from India and Japan (hence some of the outfits I own).

                Maybe you can see why I am honestly confused by these rules others are saying are obvious to them. I can choose to never where ethnic outfits as costumes but, Rayner, are you saying I am not allowed to include any part of the cutlures of my youth because I look white?

                1. Rayner

                  It’s not about ‘looking’ white at all. Or any other ethnicity.

                  It’s about culture and identity.

                  You can ‘look’ like a particular race but unless you have a link to it through heritage or other social means that’s not “I could stand in a crowd of [X people] and not stand out” taking parts of it which are important such as national dress, jewellery or social standing materials (like medals) and wearing them or using them without understanding (and) permission is wrong and unfair.

                  It’s kind of tricky, and nothing is absolutely clear cut (barring the extreme examples) – but like I said and the article I linked to said, if you, for example, brought a necklace or clothing in a particular style from a local store, or something that was made with that culture’s tradition and/or permission, then it’s different from dressing up in a warbonnet and going to a Halloween party as a joke.

                  I can’t answer for every culture, and I can’t point at every example and say “right, wrong, eh, right, maybe, OH GOD NO,” but it’s about thinking about why you’re wearing something or using it.

                  Are you trying to look or present yourself as for example, Indian by wearing that particular piece of clothing? Are you trying to appear to be something you’re not? Are you wearing in a way that’s sympathetic to the culture it’s from (e.g. it’s appropriate, and not sexualised)? Do you understand why it’s part of the national culture? Did [your own culture] oppress, harm, or abuse [culture that the item/garment etc is from]? Do you recognise this if [your culture] did? (if the answer to the last two questions is YES, it’s probably not a good idea).

                  (Generic you.)

                  Embracing cultural differences is awesome. And should be part of everybody’s growing up experiences. But it’s about embracing it, being respectful and understand of what you’re doing when doing so and not taking it for your own when it’s not.

                  There is absolutely no way to say any of that over the internet without appearing Preach PreachyPreacher but please know that this was a carefully considered approach to your question.

        2. Rayner

          *sighs*

          It gives me hope that people are looking to understand and develop knowledge about cultural appropriation and the subtle racism in things like Halloween – or costuming in general – in this post’s comments.

          On the other hand, it makes my heart hurt that people think it’s okay because they ‘don’t intend’ to hurt or cause offense.

          Intention is not a magic wand. It doesn’t change the fact that someone is hurt or offended or finds something in incredibly poor taste and is inappropriate to the extreme.

          *sigh again*

          On the other hand, it’s letting people talk and discuss. Which is a good thing.

          1. Rayner

            Waaaaaaait. OI.

            This is was supposed to be a new comment at the bottom of this post. Oy vey…. IDK what happened.

            Pussyfooter, this isn’t aimed at you.

  43. Jay-Rey

    I disagree with the person above, who said, “Not being confronted is not the same as not being racist.”

    It totally depends upon context. If you slap on the fake tan and don the rave outfit as mentioned, to look like Nicky Minaj, and everyone at the party thinks you look ace because you’ve pulled off an accurate depiction, who’s left to judge “you’re still a racist”? No-one.

    There’s no universal scale for this. “If you enact these behaviors, I hereby decree you’re a racist. Lose the wig and you’re fine.” Of course you have to be thoughtful and sensitive – but you can gaze into your navel forever; you’re never gonna find the yardstick you’re looking for.

  44. BCW

    I also want to comment on a common argument against people’s intentions matter. People love to use the “If you step on my foot, you should still apologize whether it was on purpose or not”. I’d argue that a physical thing and emotional/mental are slightly different in this instance. Put it like this. If you accidentally step on my toe, spill water on me, etc to me, there is NO QUESTION that you affected my negatively in some way. Now a 50 pound girl vs. a 300 lb guy is going to affect me differntly, but there is a physiological response there.

    When its anything that can be linked to perception, such as a comment or costume, that same thing isn’t there. For some, like my grandmother who grew up black in the south during the 1940s, I’m not going to deny there isn’t going to be a stronger reaction to certain things than I have. There are certain things that have NO affect on me that could upset someone. But the fact is, as opposed to something like stepping on a foot, you don’t know that, so you can’t call them the same thing.

    1. Natalie

      ” If you accidentally step on my toe, spill water on me, etc to me, there is NO QUESTION that you affected my negatively in some way. Now a 50 pound girl vs. a 300 lb guy is going to affect me differntly, but there is a physiological response there.”

      In my experience, the foot-stepping analogy is used when Joe is told explicitly “I find your behavior offensive” and, as a defense, says “I didn’t mean it!” without apologizing. So Joe doesn’t need to guess whether or not he hurt someone – he knows, because they just told him.

      Several years ago I developed the bad habit of using the word “retarded” in a casual context, not referring to actual medical conditions. I don’t really know where I picked it up, but I know not a single person said anything to me until a couple of months ago when my cousin’s husband asked me not to use “retarded” around him.

      You know what? I was embarrassed as hell, as anyone is when someone says “I don’t like what you did”. But I didn’t argue with him about it. I didn’t tell him that my intentions were good. I just apologized like an adult and worked on my vocabulary from that point on.

      1. BCW

        Well here is the problem, and I’ve dealt with this many times. People want to demand what type of apology they are given. I had a situation like this just a few days ago. I made a statement, it offended someone who was there. Now it wasn’t a racist, or sexist thing at all, but this person is known to be very sensitive. I completely stand by my statement because it was true, but it hurt her feelings. So I said, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings”, but that wasn’t enough. She wanted me to feel remorseful for what I said. I didn’t feel remorseful because while most people who were around may not have said it, they thought it was true. I really was sorry that I said something without thinking that hurt her in some way, but I don’t think I needed to take back what I said or admit any wrongdoing. This girl, along with many people I have come across, would rather have an insincere apology than a true statement, which I don’t get.

  45. Jen in RO

    I’m sure glad Halloween is not popular here – dressing up in a non-offensive costume seems so exhausting. (I was a hippie at my office costume party – did I offend my parents’ generation?)

  46. Ford MF

    Hey, can we all just collectively agree that arguments along the lines of “but what if my cultural appropriation is really respectful and historically accurate” don’t hold any water? Acting like you’re paying some kind of compliment to native Americans or Japanese geishas or whomever doesn’t make it not racist. Unless you’re like, a trained anthropologist who for some reason dresses up like that, professionally, for educational purposes, on days other than Halloween, there is a 100% chance your costume is super racist.

    1. Pussyfooter

      If this is in response to my post, you completely missed my point. I asked for people to explain things for me, followed by a question and two statements illustrating my confusion. I was not arguing for anything.

  47. Ford MF

    I feel like the best response to a nonredponsive manager in this situation is just to let everyone involved know how excited you are to livetweet the party, with pictures, and tag the company and participants in it.

  48. Victoria Nonprofit

    I have to say, I’m bummed out by a few of the Anonymous or Anon For This/Regular Turned Anon/etc. comments on here: people are saying some racist ish, and I don’t like the feeling that they might be folks I otherwise enjoy on these comment threads. :(

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I agree. While I’m not going to stop people from doing it, I want to state for the record that if you choose to establish an identity here, I’d rather not see you take it off and put it back on as it suits you based on the likely inflammatory content of your postings.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit

        I have, on occasion, gone anonymous when I’ve wanted to give more detail about a specific situation than I would be comfortable doing publicly. What are your thoughts on that?

          1. Anonymous

            Well, not this anon. I’m anon, because, well, we boomers do not trust the Internets. I tend to never ID myself. If a blog requires id (like openID or GoogleID or whatever) I am gone. Um, I think I just outed myself there with too much knowledge about the Intertubes. I guess I will henceforth be “camelCase”? “FriendlyWebDev”? “I’m all up in yer SQL”? Choices, choices.

            This was a good topic.

            :)

              1. Erin

                As her posts got more and more inflammatory, I found myself paging through the names of known regular commentors and wondering who’s missing. It seriously colors your view of someone! Very cowardly to hide behind anonymity.

                1. Jamie

                  That’s what bothered me…that it was someone normally not anon and then it casts suspicion on everyone and that’s creepy.

                  I also have done the anon thing on occasion only if it was something a little too identifiable and it’s only to keep it out of a search engine under my name.

                  But if I believed something enough to defend it here, I’d stick my name on it – popular opinion or not. Because when you post as a “regular but anon this time” and make insensitive or inflammatory comments it can make everyone give each other the side eye…and that’s not right.

                2. ThursdaysGeek

                  Uh oh, then I’d better post something just to let everyone know I’m a day behind in reading, and thus not commenting.

              2. BCW

                I kind of understand it. A very benign comment on here gets twisted as someone condoning racism by some people. And as was said below, that twisting of words will then have people judging anything they say as possibly racist. So I get why they would do it.

                1. Anonymous

                  Their comments were not benign. Their comments were explicitly arguing why blackface costumes are okay and why everyone who feels differently needs to put their “Adult Pants” on or “not show up” because their right to blackface is worth more than the discomfort of POC and rational white people. Most if not everything they said was offensive to most thinking people.

                2. Rana

                  Plus, this person must have a sense that what they’re saying is potentially offensive, otherwise they wouldn’t hide behind another name for the discussion. If you’re going to argue that your views are not offensive, but rather other people are being “too sensitive,” that’s a weird approach to take.

              3. Ariancita

                Heh, I have a good guess of who that is, but I’ll not spill (mostly because I’m probably wrong and also because I will be respectful of the poster’s choice). To reiterate Victoria above, I’ve gone anon, but only when giving out more detailed information for my response that I felt was too personal (never for anything negative).

                1. Pussyfooter

                  I’m half cowardly.

                  I need the anonymity to discuss anything (oh! the TMI I have shared!) in order to learn as much as I can. I want the freedom to put my foot in my mouth.

                  So I make clear that it is the same me each time I post, but use a screen name.
                  For this opportunity, I sacrifice the opportunity to network outside the blog–otherwise I’d be in the LinkedIn group.

                  Maybe the “going anonymous” people tend to use their legal names as screen names and didn’t realize in advance that they’d one day feel the need to post awkward info in tough subjects. I’d rather hear what they have to say incognito than not know the range of ideas out there. (Yes, it even taints their credibility with me when they do that, though. Wish they didn’t do it.) :(

                2. Ariancita

                  AAM: that’s a good question, actually. When I’ve done it, I’m pretty sure I’ve just posted as Anonymous and not designated myself a regular commenter. But I would speculate it could either be so that folks don’t think they’re trolling if the content is contentious or because they want to have their content given the weight of regard and seriousness (and esteem?) one tends to give a regular (sort of like parlaying a bit of the social capital they may have earned here).

    2. Forrest

      Thats the weird thing. They’re maintaining there’s nothing wrong with wearing offense Halloween costumes…but they won’t use their “name.”

      That kind of means you know you’re wrong guys.

      1. CubeKitteh

        It is more a lack of conviction in the ability to defend one’s comment. Alison has provided a safe forum (see comments regarding name calling above) for discussion of some very touchy subjects. While one may be in the minority in their opinion, one shouldn’t post as anonymous for fear of retribution. That being said, that person should also not be attacked for expressing their opinion. It’s their opinion, just as each of us have an opinion that others may not agree with.
        I would also like to add that some caution should be used when using cultural appropriation as a blanket statement. What we find offensive due to negative historical connotation does not necessarily cross all cultures. (Note: I am not saying that blackface or the disrespectful wearing of headdresses or native attire is not taboo and offensive.) For example, if one wants to dress in a kilt and be a highlander but is not Scottish, are they then forbidden? We get ourselves into trouble using blanket statements.
        That being said, I do not think it is wrong to be inspired by aspects of those cultures. While I certainly would not run around blackfaced outside of an educational art performance (which I have participated in), I do take inspiration from the elements of that culture. Same with Native American dress. Art is an imitation of life and can inspire cross-culture.
        As I stated before, most people do not consider the consequences of their costume beyond the “hey, this will be fun!” And at the same time, we do a disservice to those who have done this and didn’t think about it by name-calling and blanketing it all under cultural appropriation.

        Basically, never assume malice when ignorance provides a sufficient explanation. :)

        1. Forrest

          I’m sorry, but I’m so over people describing the negative response they get to their ignorant opinion as an “attack.” You don’t get to just state whatever you want and not have people respond. If you can’t handle your opinion/stance being questioned or rejected by the majority, don’t state it.

          1. CubeKitteh

            In a forum, one should be able to express their opinion. Yes, there will be dissenters. That is the nature of dialogue and debate. However, when one is responded to with word choices such as “ignorant opinion” and name-calling, it is easy to see how folks interpret responses as attacks.
            I am, perhaps, not wording my posts as well as I would like to convey my opinion, and I am well aware that there is a possibility that someone will dissent and respond thusly to my post. I am just asking that we treat each other with respect and dignity and give folks the benefit of the doubt.

            1. Forrest

              “In a forum, one should be able to express their opinion.”

              Did anyone say they couldn’t?

              ” However, when one is responded to with word choices such as “ignorant opinion” and name-calling, it is easy to see how folks interpret responses as attacks.”

              I’m sorry but if someone can’t handle their opinion being call ignorant when it is then they shouldn’t post. I seriously can’t get over the idea that its ok to do something that degrades entire races of people but its not ok to call that same idea “ignorant.”

              Additionally, there was one name calling and AAM smacked that down. (Also, no name calling is a AAM policy – its certainly not a real life one.)

              And neither are in no way an attacked aka an aggressive and violent action against a person or place. What it is is a bunch of people not able to handle any disagreement to their viewpoint and they idea that their viewpoint may in fact be wrong.

              And I’m sorry, but not all opinions are equal. If I were to sit here and say Hitler was a great guy, would you say the same? I mean, I’m saying some people are ignorant and instead of sitting silently, you’re engaging with me in disagreement. Isn’t that a contradiction of what you’re commenting on? Should I call it an attack?

              1. CubeKitteh

                We are participating in a dialogue. However, the use of certain phrasing and words can be construed as “attacking”. Using the previous example, no one wants to be called ignorant or that their opinion is ignorant. All people are intitled to an opinion which would be determined by the life experience, education and culture from which the individual came. That experience may not be the same or equal to that of yours or mine. It that opinion automatically less than yours or mine? Hence, the above phrasing or word can be interpreted as an inflamatory to some people. We take communcations for granted so much that while we throw around all sorts of words and phrasing, we don’t take into consideration how it might be interpretted by those reading the comments without vocal/emotional subtext or knowing the background of said reader.
                I am also not disagreeing that folks who choose to post should be able to take dissenting opinion and engage in productive debate. I am, however, disappointed in the use of blanket statements by more than one poster.
                That is what I am trying to convey.

                1. Forrest

                  And I totally disagree and think people either need to rethink their opinions if they can’t handle people disagreeing with them or pull on their grown up pants and stand by it.

                  Either way, aside from one name calling, no one on this blog was “attacked.” If this is attacking, I hope they never go to Reddit or 4chan or even the outside world.

                  And yes, some opinion are less than others. Again, if I were to say Hilter was the greatest person ever, you wouldn’t say my opinion was equal, justifiable or worthy of respect.

                  Not all opinions are equal. That does, in fact, mean some opinions are less than others. I’m going to trust an astronaut’s opinion on what space is like over a deep sea driver’s. One’s been, one hasn’t. That means one is less compared to the other.

                  And that’s ok. Maybe some people would stop feeling “attacked” if they stopped giving so much weight to their own opinion to the point of excluding the opinions of people who have actually been there.

                  And I can’t get over how disagreeing negatively with someone’s opinion is an attack when that opinion is for the degradation of an entire race. It would seem to me that’s an attack.

            1. Forrest

              Yes seriously. There are a lot of ignorant opinions out there outside of Halloween costumes. Its called speaking generally.

                1. Forrest

                  Ignorant:

                  ig·no·rant
                  ˈignərənt/
                  adjective
                  adjective: ignorant

                  1.
                  lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated.

                  Pray tell, how did I use it incorrectly?

                2. Editor

                  Forrest — In the rural areas where I’ve lived and worked, “ignorant” is a code word for low-class; in some cases I’ve heard it used as a substitute for the terms “white trash” or “trailer-park trash.” It is also used as a substitute, in some cases, for words like stupid, dumb, or retarded. I only just realized the dictionary isn’t keeping up with this nuance.

                  You might want to use “uninformed” as a substitute, since it is less of a fighting word.

              1. JuliB

                From the dictionary definition you provided (and which was what I was referring to as well), you seem to think that people who don’t agree with you are uninformed.

                Listen, we can look at the same situation and have different opinions. It’s not that people don’t understand your opinion, it’s that they don’t agree with your opinions.

                To call other opinions ignorant suggests that you think your opinion is the only valid one. Which it might be to you, but that comes across as either foolish or arrogant.

                And ‘uninformed’ is even worse.

                While reading this column has exposed me to some sincere feelings, it hasn’t really changed my opinion.

                1. Forrest

                  Oh please. Not all opinions are valued and yes, some opinions are ignorant. If I said the sky was green, would you consider it valid?

            2. Anonymous

              Sure. Ignorant means lacking knowledge and awareness. If you believe something (and pretty darn firmly, as evidenced by this so-called “Regular Gone Anon”) without considering historical implications and historical facts, it’s absolutely ignorant. And then if you continue to argue that point after others have tried to educate you, then your opinion is downgraded to WILLFULLY ignorant, which is a far worse sin, in my opinion.

              1. Anonymous

                (I use “historical implications and historical facts” in the blackface example primarily. But an ignorant opinion generally doesn’t look at any implications or facts, on any subject. It doesn’t necessarily have to be historical. People have a right to their opinions, but others also certainly have the right call out the lack of substantial evidence behind those said opinions.)

        2. Chinook

          “I would also like to add that some caution should be used when using cultural appropriation as a blanket statement”

          Thank you for saying this and for using the Scottish kilt as an example. The Scots have been an oppresed people (and some claim they still are – hence the “Free Scotland” movement that Sean Connery is a part of) and there was a time when wearing tartan colours was something you could be killed for. In Canada, though, we have appropriated this distinctive cultural attire to become part of our identity. There is a distinctive Canadian tartan and a Canadian Air Force Tartan and both are worn by our military regardless of the members cultural background and I have never heard a Scot complain about this (and they would – one of them took the Canadian government to court to fight against swearing allegiance to the Queen of England/Canada).

          And it is not like Canadians in general don’t make fun of Scottish traditions – there are always jokes about haggis and bag pipes around Robbie Burns Day. Maybe the difference is that it is done with love in the same way you harras siblings?

          1. Jamie

            A good example of this here in the US is right here in the midwest with team mascots.

            The University of Illinois are the Fighting Illini. University of Notre Dame are the Fighting Irish. I have various family members who are alums from both schools.

            There are Native Americans who protest the Fighting Illini image and find it culturally insulting. They protest to try to affect a change.

            The Fighting Irish? They will plaster that little leprechaun on every flat surface they can find. I’ve never once met anyone offended by that. We love that little guy.

            So the first example hurts significant numbers of people – the second doesn’t. The first group is to this day still affected by racism and the second group is not. I think that’s where the difference lies.

  49. Katie the Fed

    Thanks for posting this thread, AAM. I’ve actually learned a lot and thought about a few things very differently as a result.

    1. Anonymous

      What did you learn? I admit I did not read all the comments, but it seemed like your comments at least were very consistent. I am curious! (no agenda other than curiosity)

      1. Katie the Fed

        I think there are some things I assume are a given – like most people know the context/history of blackface, but they really don’t.

        And I never really gave geisha or gypsy costumes much thought at all. Native American or “Muslim terrorist”, yes I knew better on that, but I don’t think I would have batted an eye at a gypsy or genie. And I should know better.

        Oh and I once wore a tradition Uigher costume to a party without giving it a second thought, because I really know and appreciate the culture, and happened to have some of the beautiful clothes. I probably wouldn’t now.

        1. Anonymous

          See I grew up in the Pacific NW, and I remember watching “All in the Family” and not understanding any of it. We just didn’t have any of those words.

          I do remember being in Argentina and having a conversation with a non-Euro Argentine. His name was “Negro” and he thought our cultural sensitivities were amusingly over-the-top.

          It truly is an individual thing, and you just have to ask. Negro could not care less. And as I said above, I have two Native American friends, one finds Disney-fied Pocahontas, tomahawk chops, and feather headdresses beyond racist, and the other is a Redskins fan, I think mainly because of the name. Can’t be their record this year, lol. SO enjoying mentioning the Seahawks to him! It’s finally my turn, yay, go ‘Hawks!

        2. fposte

          To be clear, I would question the notion that “denigrate” is offensive (and I don’t know that businesslady was suggesting that it is, just noting its etymology). It’s not drawing on any human term or ethnically pejorative history; it’s in the tradition of words like “sully” and “besmirch” that draw on the notion of staining and dirtying as being a bad thing. There may be a larger discussion about the way many languages do equate darkness with badness (I don’t know what the global pattern on this is, but I know it’s not just English), but I don’t see this word as deserving of being singled out there.

          1. businesslady

            right, I don’t think “denigrate” is in the same category as the actually-a-slur terms referenced elsewhere in the thread, although I do think more carefully about how & when I use it since learning about its etymology.

  50. Jess (Managing Software Architect)

    I’m sorry. I really am. But can we please all get over ourselves?

    Offensive? A costume? Ok I can see how SOME PEOPLE can see it as such. Especially with Black Face. But lets try a few more things on for size.

    Lets start with this ENTIRE HOLIDAY.

    You want offensive? Try having a holy day of your religion that is about the harvest and spiritual well being as well as a form of new year and having it corrupted to mainstream Halloween. Fine, you want you have fun. OK! I respect that.

    Ok now try being labeled as a satan/devil worshiper because you wear a pentacle or a trisquel and because you celebrate the holiday in a manner similar to how it was a thousand years ago. I would say that is more offensive to anyone personally than a costume of something from history or modern day that someone fancies or romanticizes.

    You have to remember that people who dress as a Native American, or a Harem girl, or another member of an ethnic group if doing so because they think it looks pretty or looks cool. It is not an attack. If they were trying to be offensive they would be doing things very differently.

    Please just move on. Let people be. Either everything is OK or none of it is. No 1920’s mobsters, it can be offensive to Italian immigrants and Italians who in the US suffered horrible conditions. Don’t wear a tartan kilt unless you are Scottish, the Scotts were oppressed by the English. Don’t be a Viking, they were not Barbarians. Don’t be a horse, they were severely mistreated for centuries, don’t be a Cat, you are insulting the Egyptians, and for that matter do not be a cat girl unless you do not mind someone dressing as Allah, Jesus, Buddha, St. Francis, etc as you are insulting an Egyptian Deity and thus the Egyptian Heritage. Do not be a deer, bear, fox, coyote, crow, beaver, insert north american animal, Chances are you are insulting the deity of at least 1 Native American Tribe.

    I can go on like this for hours. Seriously. Please let people have their fun and display their ADMIRATION for an aspect of your or another group’s culture. If its a negative aspect of culture that was or is oppressed and you feel that strongly, find out if that person is aware of the negative connotations of that particular costume and help them to adjust it so that its not glorifying a stain. But please do not assume the worst and call them racists.

    And if you want to be that outraged, fine, then please to not participate at all for if you are outraged by a costume which may or may not be offensive it is likely not intended to be, then you should be horrified at the events, death, and oppression that lead to this holiday’s modern form.

    1. Katie the Fed

      I should probably duck out here, because it doesn’t seem like you want to understand, but I’ll try anyway:

      “Either everything is OK or none of it is. ”

      No. You can set standards that some things are ok and others are not. Costumes that are caricatures of certain ethnic groups are not ok. Blackface is NEVER ok. Most other things are probably ok. See, it’s not hard to set some guidelines.

      “{If they were trying to be offensive they would be doing things very differently.”

      Agreed. But your actions/words can still be demeaning even if that wasn’t the intent. That’s the point of most of the commenters here – to educate. Most people probably don’t know why these things are bad. It’s a good chance to educate. It’s the ones who respond with “well, I’m still going to do it anyway” that are a problem.

      “And if you want to be that outraged, fine, then please to not participate at all for if you are outraged by a costume which may or may not be offensive it is likely not intended to be”

      That’s fine, but this is a workplace. And employers in the US have the responsibility to ensure that their workplaces do not constitute a hostile environment for their employees on the basis of protected classes, which include race, ethnicity, national origin, etc.

      1. Pussyfooter

        Good heavens!
        There’s so much discussion of what is/not/why etc. that I wonder if the OP found much discussion of their question!
        (My two ideas were give a friendly heads up to an individual–if you know them well enough to do this–and ask the office manager to address the issue to the entire staff, in advance.)

        1. Katie the Fed

          Then you’ll be happy to know that I addressed her original question in the very first comment up above.

      1. Jess (Managing Software Architect)

        Sorry. I was being extreme and kinda doing some satire. I have made a new post with my true feelings on this matter. It can be seen below.

        For the record: I have persecuted for religious aspects, I have even lost an apartment because of it but without any way to really prove it. However, I welcome all to their beliefs and celebrate Halloween how they see fit.

        1. JuliB

          Jess – I had a big reply to one of your posts focusing on the religious aspect, but the server timed out.

          Anyway – to summarize – I strongly agree with you.

    2. Plynn

      “Please let people have their fun and display their ADMIRATION for an aspect of your or another group’s culture.”

      Do really think it’s okay to DEMAND that other people not be offended? Because it might ruin your fun? Or because being called racist makes people, like, really REALLY sad?

        1. Jess (Managing Software Architect)

          Bait Kind of accepted. Please see my post in response to my post to get this cleared up.

    3. Natalie

      “You have to remember that people who dress as a Native American, or a Harem girl, or another member of an ethnic group if doing so because they think it looks pretty or looks cool. It is not an attack. If they were trying to be offensive they would be doing things very differently.”

      No one needs to remember that because no one has forgotten it. We don’t care, because this actually isn’t a great argument.

      Adrienne over at Native Appropriations has written a ton of posts about this. You should consider reading some of them.

      http://nativeappropriations.com/2012/10/so-you-wanna-be-an-indian-for-halloween.html

  51. TamaraLea

    This is a matter of policy. If there is a company policy prohibiting behavior that might be offensive to a “reasonable person”, then they need to be told. [Actually, they should not need to be told, but the sad truth is that even smart people have moronic moments. So as a courtesy, we tell them.] If there is not a policy, the default should be whatever the public policy is (EEO, OSHA, etc., regulations).

    Every Halloween I (an HR Manager) send a note out reminding employees that they will be sent home to change if they come to work in a way that violates policies or basic safety requirements. No masks (we need to know the people in the building really are employees), nothing too revealing (this eliminates the slutty outfits), and nothing offensive (e.g., racism, sexism, mocking religions, political statements, etc). This usually makes at least a few people modify the costumes they were considering. In my 5+ years, we have never had to send anyone home as a result.

    In your case, a senior manager in your company could send this out in advance, and then enforce it if/when these idiots do not rethink their workplace costumes. If it does not come from the top, nobody will care. Sad but true.

  52. Jess (Managing Software Architect)

    Oy, apparently extremist examples and satire can be too readily misunderstood on the interwebs. So here I go in a non extreme and satire flavor.

    Remember, black face aside, because that carries a huge stigma and was invented solely for racist purposes.

    No its not “ok”, but it is also. That’s the point here.

    Look, no matter what you do, someone can find something offensive about it. Period. See my list of examples. You may think its not the same. But go to Egypt and dress up as a Cat Girl. See what happens. They take their antiquities and heritage serious enough as to have a governmental ministry for it.

    But you have to realize. NOT EVERYTHING IS RACIST because it can offend someone. It is racist if its intent IS to offend someone.

    Probably the best example I can give is a south park episode where the town flag, depicting the lynching of a black stick figure by white ones, was called into question. The children were asked to redesign it. Many of them stood up and claimed that they saw nothing wrong with the flag. After sometime it came to light that the reason that they did not see anything wrong with it is that they saw some stick dude getting hanged by some other stick guys. They did not see black and white. They did not see the racism because to them there was no race.

    Many of these costumes are not meant as an offense. Offense is perceived by the one who takes it. People dressing up like this see an aspect of history that they fancy. They mimic it. That’s all. That is what I am getting at here. They do not perceive it as X Culture’s History. They see it, rightly so, as TERRAN History. The history of our species. If they are mistaken as to the meaning of it, point out that real meaning for they might be ignorant of it. Suggest a way they can show their admiration of that culture in a way that does not romanticize the stains. Do not try to declare all aspects of all other cultures off limits. Seriously please. And definitely do not cry racism unless you know for a fact that that is the intent behind it. The costume wearer might just think that the kimono and makeup are pretty and may have only seen the romanticized geisha’s of the movies and tv. They might think that Princess Jasmine’s outfit is pretty.

    Think of this:

    Do you have an issue with Civil War Reenactors dressing up as Confederate Sodiers? How about if they do it for Halloween because they have the costume and get invited to a party last minute? It is an aspect of White American culture that can very easily be seen as offensive. But its common. Even Black people do it. A Black person dressing up as a member of an army whose purpose was to fight a war against an “Aggressive North” in a war where one of the last straws was the declaration that the slavery of their people was illegal in the South. Think about it. It happens more often than you would think. Those that do it do not see it as support of slavery. They see it as pride of their region.

    Long story short.

    Offense is perceived, however, so is race. We will ALWAYS have racism as long as we have race. If we are to move forward at all as a species and global society we must put these aside and recognize that aspects of Terran history belong to Terrans as a whole. We are all interconnected, all of us. And as long as we constantly remind each other of diffences we will not be able to live with one another. If we dwell to much in the past, we will miss the bus to go forward.

    Educate! Do not preach (as I sit here and do just that). Instead of declaring x racist, tell that person x is is not cool because x were actually abused, or abusers, or stands for hated and bigotry, but only if they were or are. If they are not then rejoice in the opening of cultural boundaries. Celebrate that people enjoy aspects of cultures other than their own. Exploration of other cultures is the only way to heal and eliminate the hatred and bigotry derived from ignorance. We must all be color and culture blind if we are to ever embrace our true race: Terran.

    1. Katie the Fed

      “Look, no matter what you do, someone can find something offensive about it. Period. See my list of examples. You may think its not the same. But go to Egypt and dress up as a Cat Girl. See what happens. They take their antiquities and heritage serious enough as to have a governmental ministry for it.”

      No. Seriously, stop. Modern Egyptians have about as much in common with Ancient Egyptians as a St. Louisan has with a Cahokia Indian.

      Most Egyptians are Muslim Arabs now, with some Coptic Christians in there. It’s a VERY modern place, especially Cairo and Alexandria. I can assure you they would not make the cat connection at all if you dressed up as a cat. Maybe if you dressed up as Anubis or Horus they’d wonder, but the cat is definitely not sacred.

      Oh and the reason they have a Ministry of Antiquities is because westerner powers British Museum. They have to carefully regulate archeological digs to ensure that artifacts don’t go missing.

      1. Katie the Fed

        Hmm I lost a line. That was supposed to say “because western powers have liked to steal their stuff and put it in places like the British Museum.”

      2. Jess (Managing Software Architect)

        “Maybe if you dressed up as Anubis or Horus they’d wonder, but the cat is definitely not sacred. ”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastet
        Let me introduce you to the original cat girl. Bastet. An Egyptian Cat Goddess. Like Horus, or Anubis she is a prized piece of Egyptian Cultural Heritage

        And Dr Hawass seems to think Cats are important to the history of Egypt, At least a little

        “I believe that this open-air archaeological site will help visitors to learn about the history of this city of cats. It shows the importance of cats in the lives of the pharaohs over thousands of years, and how the ancient Egyptians worshipped the cat called Bastet.”

        http://www.guardians.net/hawass/articles/bastet.htm

        “No. Seriously, stop. Modern Egyptians have about as much in common with Ancient Egyptians as a St. Louisan has with a Cahokia Indian.”

        You can not simultaneously propose that one cultures archaic aspects are out regardless of how modern that culture is, but another’s are in. Most of St. Louisians do not trace their origins back to the Cahokia at all (unlike alot of Egyptians). Try that statement again. This time replace the Cahokia with the 4 corners Navajo.

        “Oh and the reason they have a Ministry of Antiquities is because westerner powers British Museum. They have to carefully regulate archeological digs to ensure that artifacts don’t go missing.”

        “The principal mission of the Ministry of State for Antiquities, previously known as the Supreme Council of Antiquities, is to protect and promote the cultural heritage of Egypt, both independently and in cooperation with national and international organizations.” – http://www.sca-egypt.org/eng/main.htm

        If it were just to police the artifacts and keep them from going missing, then why is that their mission statement? Or you talking the original origins? Because 1. It was started by the French, and 2. If they viewed that way, why did they promote if from a council of the Ministry of Culture to a Full ministry? Something that is roughly equivalent to a Department (ie of Defense) in the US?

        Also that is one example. Meant to be slightly comedic to break tension but also with a ring of truth. Did you miss the rest of the message?

        1. Katie the Fed

          I’m choosing to get hung up on this example because it’s silly and ignorant of modern Egypt. Nobody would even get the significance of dressing up as a cat, was my point. And they would just find it odd if you dressed up as any of the ancient gods. It’s the same land but the culture is completely different.

          Mostly I’m getting hung up on it because you keep making this false equivalency that everybody can find offense in everything, so “Either everything is OK or none of it is.” Like I said before, we’re talking a limited range of things that should make you go “hmm,” namely caricatures of cultures, ethnicities and races of groups of people that still exist. It’s really not that difficult to identify those things and say “oh, you know, that’s not ok” without going the full slippery slope.

        2. Pussyfooter

          I lose my marbles every time I scroll past this post.

          I’m fond of the Bast/Sekhmet art and concepts of Ancient Egypt. That religion is extinct–or so obscure and marginalized that I’ve never heard of living practitioners in a continuous line of worshipers from ancient times.
          Having been sacred once and being commonly revered now are entirely different things.

          I just can’t wrap my head around Jess’ concepts from this point in the conversation. What the hey?

    2. plynn

      Okay, you said that your second post was intended to “clear things up” after the first one was misunderstood.

      First, saying all the same things you said the first time, but at even greater length does clear things up.

      Second, it wasn’t that I misunderstood your points or your intent , it was that I totally disagreed (and still disagree) with them.

      I actually do agree with the ‘we are all one’ philosophy, but to me that means that I need to try extremely hard to understand and respect people’s wishes – not to demand that everyone be okay with me dressing up in a cultural outfit because “it’s pretty!” or insisting that because my beliefs haven’t been respected in the past, that NO ONE should have theirs respected.

      1. Jess (Managing Software Architect)

        Im sorry I can not agree. I guess a lot of it is because I grew up with such cultural diversity, both observing and participating, that I do not see anything inherently offensive in dressing up as another culture. I am a mutt and because of this, my family has no real ethnicity. so growing up i got my culture doses though friends family and in school. And in School we were taught about cultures and even dressed up in traditional clothings of that culture. Even for halloween it was encouraged. And My schools were always ethnically diverse. So i eventually grew to not really see different ethnic groups. Just other people. So its hard for me to see from the POV that alot of people seems to come from.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          That’s great, truly. But surely when you learn that large swaths of people find these things hurtful and offensive — large swaths, not just outliers — you would prefer not to offend them, right? And not just dismiss them because you feel differently?

          1. Jess (Managing Software Architect)

            Honestly, Allison, I have never had someone of an ethnic group demonstrate any offense of this kind of stuff (taken from their culture) that did not change their stance instantly upon brief explanation. I have only ever come across this type of lasting outrage from white people taking offense for them.

            1. BCW

              To piggyback on that, I’ve seen more white people offended by these cultural things than people in those cultures. I went to a college with a Native American mascot. Whenever there were protests, I could count one on hand the number of actual native americans there. For me, that cause would have been much easier to get behind if people of that culture were offended, and not white people being offended for them. I have a very diverse group of friends, and maybe it has to do with our age, background, and where we live, but my friends very rarely get offended by any of these things, no matter what culture. Black, white, latino, gay, whatever, we choose to not see these things as attacks.

            2. BCW

              To piggyback on that, I’ve seen more white people offended by these cultural things than people in those cultures. I went to a college with a Native American mascot. Whenever there were protests, I could count one on hand the number of actual native americans there. For me, that cause would have been much easier to get behind if people of that culture were offended, and not white people being offended for them. I have a very diverse group of friends, and maybe it has to do with our age, background, and where we live, but my friends very rarely get offended by any of these things, no matter what culture. Black, white, latino, gay, whatever, we choose how to interpret things, and unless something is truly over the top, we know that the intent (which I know on this board is a bad word) really is what it comes down to

              1. Rayner

                Just because you have not personally seen, heard, or thought about people being offended by appropriation of their culture, does not mean it doesn’t happen and people don’t feel strongly about it.

                http://nativeappropriations.com/2011/10/we-are-not-a-costume.html for starters, and there are many more. I’m sure someone pointed another one out that was very good. http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html Here.

                I suggest you put cultural appropriation into a search engine, and find some critical essays on it.

                1. Ariancita

                  Yes. Great links. And there’s a lot more if one is willing to search. Also, Native Americans aren’t one group of people (like Africa is not a country). Almost every single group has their own official statement about it (some of the most vociferous are from plains tribes where many of these stereotypes come from) and each individual has their own ideas about it. So one’s outside observation and subjective interpretation of a few individual’s actions is not appropriate data for drawing accurate conclusions.

                  Many of the groups and individuals I’ve worked with have found it horribly offensive (also think Halloween candy such as Indian Corn).

              2. Forrest

                “Whenever there were protests, I could count one on hand the number of actual native americans there. ”

                Mathematically, that’s a lot considering how many Native Americans their are, how many are/can get off reservations easily, how many are in college and how many can get to a college protest in the middle of the day.

            3. MW

              Or they just didn’t feel like arguing with you. I know for me, when someone tells me my feelings are wrong and then offers “a brief explanation” to enlighten me, they may as well be using the Charlie Brown teacher’s voice.

            4. Helen

              So, maybe white allies have more energy stored up for outrage? Or maybe some people of ethnic groups HAVE demonstrated offense, and you’re just not listening to them because their opinions were thought to not matter?

            5. Heather

              Well, if you’ve never seen it, clearly everyone else must be wrong.

              I’m sorry for the sarcasm, but honestly, do you believe that nothing exists unless you have personally experienced it?

    3. JuliB

      I agree with this and what you wrote above.

      I think tolerance is something we need to keep in mind perhaps with the exception of blackface because it is a generally accepted societal understanding that it is racist.

      As a devout Catholic, I find it painful to see people dressed up as pregnant nuns, etc. But I also understand that it isn’t my right to never be offended. Would I judge someone dressing up this way as a jerk? Not necessarily. I would (and have) told myself that people have different senses of humor, and while I may not agree with it, I shouldn’t throw a hissy fit. Or, perhaps they HATE the Catholic Church. Same concept still applies.

      At some point, people have to realize that part of being in society is being offended at things at different times. The world doesn’t revolve around us and our sensitivities. Nor should it, necessarily. While I don’t go out of my way to offend, and if informed I do examine my actions, but at the end of the day, we’re responsible for our own feelings.

      1. Pussyfooter

        Ew, JuliB–that could’ve been me.
        I did a pregnant nun costume once–and don’t plan to do that ever again!

        Since criticism of the Catholic Church is included in English and History classes as a sort of universal (European-American) part of history ( like Chaucer poking fun at hypocritical people abusing their religious roles) I had no idea that this wasn’t a universally accepted joke about religious hypocrisy.

        This happened at a hotel hosting my costume-related convention and a convention of The Knights of Columbus. So, so, so, so, so clueless….I didn’t know an organization like the Knights existed; on rare occasions I’d heard their name, I thought they were a non-religious community help organization (like Shriners or an Elks Club or a Boy Scouts group…she says, not knowing a darn thing about them either).

        I got a very hurt look from the first of the Knights’ members to see me, and felt horrible for that! It was a split second thing, and I didn’t get to talk to him about it…as the elevator doors closed…then opened on the lobby full of Knights all gathered for a morning event. No hurt looks, but some very confused/strong stares. (I’m so grateful to the one Knight who laughed and took it in stride–a little warmth goes a long way–I had to wear that stupid outfit for hours before I could go change.) When I arrived in the convention center, one of my friends thought my experience was hilarious and proceeded to tell me what the Knights of Columbus organization is. Still mortified.

        So, no it wasn’t an anti-religion or an anti-Catholic idea I was going for at all.

        1. Chinook

          “I did a pregnant nun costume once. . . at a hotel hosting my costume-related convention and a convention of The Knights of Columbus.”

          O.M.G!!! That image has me giggling at the irony and, while I feel bad for how you must have felt all day, I sort of wish that the makers of those costumes could have been in yoru shoes instead. I also can understand why, if you didn’t realize how hateful and inaccurate some of the criticism out there about the Catholic Church is (or the history of why some of that misinformation came out), how you thought that the costume was funny. If you never met an openly practicing Catholic, never mind a nun, you would have no idea.

          The Knight who laughed at you had the perfect response – you meant it as a joke but, now that you know better, you know it isn’t.

          BTW, did your friend also tell you that Knights have been known to carry swords?

    4. JuliB

      Jess – I had a big reply to one of your posts focusing on the religious aspect, but the server timed out.

      Anyway – to summarize – I strongly agree with you.

  53. Jess (Managing Software Architect)

    Also For the record: I know this about at a business, so here’s for that: Businesses should embrace diversity and the sharing of culture. This is something that should be a no brainer. If your employees understand each others’ cultures and beliefs, not just forced to get along, or tolerate, or “remain sensitive”, but truly understand and appreciate, it can make a wonderful working environment built on mutual trust and understanding. You can not do this by effectively trying to sterilize to workplace of all cultures to prevent potential offense. You can do this by making sure employees know and appreciate what aspects of each others’ cultures are negative and viewed as stigmas. And the way to do this, encourage cultural exchange. Halloween can be the perfect time for this.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I can’t see how a non-native-American wearing an “Indian” costume is the sharing of cultures.

      And really, businesses can just focus on work and expect professional, pleasant, and non-racist behaviors from their employees; they don’t need to orchestrate some sort of cultural exchange to do that (and many would so mishandle that that it would make things worse, as many people subjected to those attempts have found).

      1. Jess (Managing Software Architect)

        “I can’t see how a non-native-American wearing an “Indian” costume is the sharing of cultures.”

        https://www.facebook.com/Aquehongian112. This is my OA lodge from when I was younger. In the photos section you will see alot of pictures of Order of the Arrow (a Boy Scouts sub organization) members in full costume performing dances and ceremonies.

        They are typically taught these things by Native Americans in order to share their culture and promote understanding and to help do away with the stereotypes of old.

        1. Rayner

          But that is choice.

          That is a negotiated choice for one tribe to allow people into their culture and to teach.

          When you put on a costume that is not sanctioned by a tribe, when you take that without permission, it’s not sharing cultures. Sharing implies agreement. Mutuality. Fairness.

          It’s stealing and mockery and unfair.

          1. Pussyfooter

            Have you heard of any Native American tribes attempting to copyright or gain legal control of their imagery? I wonder if that would be helpful.

            1. Anon

              The Navajo Nation owns a trademark on the word “Navajo” in commercial contexts, which is why they’re suing Urban Outfitters for selling cheesy patterned underwear whose product title included the word “Navajo.” Other tribes have debated trademarking their names, or doing similar things with traditional designs, music, beadworks, featherwork, etc., but there’s a great deal of debate about whether or not it’s ethical to commercialize designs and music meant for religious ceremonies.

              #themoreyouknow

      2. JuliB

        In Oct of 2012, Pope Benedict canonized Kateri Tekakwitha, a Catholic Mohawk who lived in the 1600s. St. Peter’s Square was filled for the first time with visitors in full Indian dress as she was the first Native American to be formally recognized as a saint. I saw pictures of the Square and it was interesting to see nuns in full habit next to Native Americans in full traditional dress.

        While Halloween started as a pagan ceremony, we Catholics appropriated it, turning it into All Saints’ Day and Nov 1 becoming All Souls’ Day. The main tradition was dressing up as saints. By the way, the “continuity” theory as I mentioned above and Jess describes in greater detail elsewhere is hotly contested. But that’s neither here nor there.

        As a devout Catholic, I claim all Catholic culture to be part of my heritage. I think that a gentle tolerance of costumes is the best approach because blackface is the only practice that culturally accepted as racist. I may not like pregnant nuns, or other religiously insulting costumes, but it’s either someone has a sense of humor VASTLY different from mine, or that person may hate the Catholic Church. Either way, I need to manage my own feelings on the topic.

        1. Jamie

          The problem with the appropriation of Native American headdresses and other symbols is that it isn’t just fashion, but they are religious/spiritual symbols. It trivializes them to see them used as a costume.

          YMMV, but as a Catholic I don’t like to see Rosaries used as costume jewelry or tattoos of Rosaries used to signal gang involvement. It’s taking something sacred and making a mockery of it.

          I would assume that’s how many people feel when their religious or significant cultural symbols are used out of context.

          1. Chinook

            “as a Catholic I don’t like to see Rosaries used as costume jewelry or tattoos of Rosaries used to signal gang involvement. It’s taking something sacred and making a mockery of it. ”

            It didn’t help that Madonna, a cradle Catholic, was one of those who did it, making it seem like it is okay or that these items have no scared meaning. *sigh*

            1. Jamie

              ITA – and she did it while claiming she had left the church. Which is fine – she just should have left the accoutrements at the door on her way out. IMO.

  54. Not So NewReader

    Family members participated in a show that included blackfaced actors. That was the 1920s.
    I tend to disagree with posters who felt it was fine for a child to dress as X ethnic group. Because, my family members absorbed a hidden lesson from this show. “Fear those who are different from us.” Isn’t that the roots of a lot of prejudice- fear? I say be careful about hidden messages with kids.
    Of the family members still living, they would not even condone such a show now. Which leads me to my second point: We have no idea what we are doing now that in decades to come will be frowned upon or worse. One poster mentioned this earlier (sorry, forgot who) and it bears repeating. I am seeing it in my own family and in my own life time.

    Maybe I am a stick in the mud, I really do not see a need for adults to be wearing costumes to work on Halloween. But everyone is not me. The next step in logic is to set up guidelines for the day- so that everyone knows up front what is expected.
    When someone shows up in a racist costume there are two problems- one is disposing of the costume quickly and the other is the awkwardness of someone telling them the costume is not appropriate. (Awkward for the bearer and the recipient.) For the most part, I have found that people are okay with most things if they are told BEFOREHAND. The problems (defensiveness, arguing, etc) come in if the person is already in the middle of the mess. If people know before the day what types of costumes are acceptable- probably most will follow along without complaint.
    I was struck by the question about inviting people to a party. I would just write on the invite “Please, keep the party a happy one. No costumes that stereotype, betray, degrade cultural/racial/gender differences in people. If you have a question please call ____.”

    My ax to grind is scary costumes. I am not big on them. I always say if I want a good scare, I can just read the news for the day. That will scare the heck out of me 365 days a year. Halloween is not necessary for me to fill my fear quota. I am good here.
    I do enjoy the kids at my door- I get about 200. I thought that was high. My friend gets around 600. I cannot imagine.

    1. Anonymous

      I would just write on the invite “Please, keep the party a happy one. No costumes that stereotype, betray, degrade cultural/racial/gender differences in people. If you have a question please call ____.”

      Most people who would dress up like this to begin with aren’t planning to stereotype or degrade a culture or race. They almost surely don’t realize that’s what they’re doing and will skip right over that part of the invite, thinking it couldn’t possibly apply to them.

      My ax to grind is scary costumes. I am not big on them. I always say if I want a good scare, I can just read the news for the day.

      Okay? The supernatural has kind of been the whole point of Halloween all along. This post was about minorities being caricatured for holiday festivities and chastised for pointing it out. Do you understand how inserting your personal preferences against certain (non-offensive) costumes and reminiscing about the volume of trick-or-treaters on Halloweens past is trite and dismissive of the whole conversation?

      I’m pretty sure #10 and #11 on the white privilege essay linked to somewhere above were written with this type of situation in mind: I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race. and I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race. I don’t think you’d literally bulldoze into a conversation at work where a minority was saying how much it hurt to see someone dressed as Aunt Jemima and say, “Yeah, but dude, the real problem is those Jason Voorhees costumes. Oooh! *shivers*” This is pretty much the same thing.

      1. Pussyfooter

        I think NotSoNew’ was just temporarily musing on the more general idea of costumes that are upsetting, not trying to force a change in the discussion. S/he spent a lot more text trying to address the OP’s general concern of preventing soon-to-be partygoers from making asses of themselves.

  55. claire m

    So, I have a question about this topic. I used to teach at a school, and once all of the staff needed to dress up for an evening Halloween event for parents and students. The school population was almost entirely white, and I am as well. I had previously worked in another country for a bit, and I wore the traditional clothes that I had purchased there for the event, partially because I liked them and wanted to have an opportunity to wear them and partially because I enjoy sharing about that culture. Until seeing this post, I never even thought that doing so might be offensive to anyone. During the event, I actually got into lots of good conversations with students and parents about the country I had been in, and I think they learned a lot more about what life in like in a country they previously hadn’t known much about. So, does wearing the clothes still seem like a terrible thing to have done in that case?

    1. Erin

      Terrible? I don’t think so. You’re a teacher who was legitimately sharing an aspect of another culture that you yourself had experienced. Halloween (rather than a dress-as-a historical character day) may not have been the best time to do it, though I’m having trouble articulating why.

    2. Jazzy Red

      Honestly, I don’t see how wearing the traditional costume of another country/whatever would offend any rational human being. My grandfather’s grandparents were born in an area that was sometimes Poland, sometimes Germany, depending on the most recent war. All the people who lived there had 2 sets of clothing, 2 sets of money (and not much of it), and spoke both languages. I would never be offended by anyone who wore traditions Polish clothing, or traditional German clothing.

      Wear your lovely outfit and continue to educate people about this other culture.

    3. Rana

      I think one thing to keep in mind is that it’s not merely wearing the clothing that is problematic – it’s the context in which this is done, as well. If you were wearing them out on the street as everyday clothing because you like them as garments, that seems okay to me. Or wearing them on a day intended to celebrate diverse cultures and encourage discussion of them.

      The problem with choosing Halloween as the occasion for this, though, is that you run the risk of turning the clothing of another culture into a “costume” – something people wear for fun and frivolous purposes to amuse each other while pretending to be something they aren’t – and by extension, suggesting that the people who wear those clothes are somehow less real than the people of your own culture. They become characters who wear costumes for your culture’s amusement, rather than people just living their lives in their own way.

      I wouldn’t say what you did was “terrible” so much as problematic.

  56. Helen

    It feels like people here defending racist costumes are incredibly privileged and/or believers in respectability politics.

  57. Kathy

    OP, assuming that your co workers are otherwise decent to work with and just co workers ( not friends, those with whom you have an outside relationship), honestly I would just take a personal day on Halloween. You say that it’s day you really enjoy, I suggest you enjoy it elsewhere. Have fun, take care of yourself and don’t worry about the dummies at the office. It’s just one day. Again this is assuming there isn’t on going racism that you are forced to deal with. This only works because it’s a very specific situation, but if you can duck out of that situation, I would. Good luck!

  58. Gmac

    Wow… Firstly grow adults dressing up at Halloween is okay with me. OUTSIDE THE WORKPLACE. I’m shocked at what the posters colleagues are suggesting.. And if they don’t listen to her when she points it out.. Maybe she should ask how they would feel if the show was on the other foot? Personally I rarely engage in anything social with my work colleagues.. I think it blurs boundaries, normally my team turn up very late for any event so I just tend to not bother..

  59. BCW

    Overall I think a basic idea. Its not my place to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn’t be offended at. Its not your place to tell me what is offensive as a general term. Everyone has different lines on what offends them. One of my white friends could make a stereotypical black joke that me and some of my other black friends find hilarious. Yet a third person may find it repulsive and highly offensive. That person shouldn’t say “You are racist” or event “That joke is racist”. But, if they say “I was offended by that for these reasons” I think it makes it a much easier thing to do. You aren’t telling the person that their intention doesn’t matter. You aren’t calling them something horrible. You are saying why YOU don’t like it. And then they have the option to apologize for offending you. At that point, you should accept that, not force them to take back the joke. I think thats why this got so heated. People are more or less calling people who dress in certain costumes racist, instead of just saying why you don’t like it. I’ll also reiterate, it will mean much more if you are of the group that is being portrayed. Sometimes, even if you are offended for someone, it just makes you look a bit pretentious if no one in that group has made the comment. A black man saying he finds a Geisha costume offensive will not resonate as much as a Japanese woman saying why she finds something offensive. And if they are both in the same room, and the Japanese woman says how cool the costume is, well then you should really keep your moth shut. Granted I know every place won’t have every ethnicity, but for all you know their best friend who is of that race told them its not offensive at all, so you being an outsider won’t make them change their mind about it, and why should it?

      1. BCW

        Yes, there are some jokes that are just blatantly racist. For example anything that talks about lynching a black person. I’d say more often though, these are jokes that are based in stereotypes as opposed to actually racist. I don’t see a problem with laughing at these things, especially if I’m fully aware that the intention isn’t to hurt feelings, just to be funny.

    1. Anonymous

      Honestly, you seem pretty privileged – even as a POC – if you are seriously trying to argue that racism is relative and not at all systematic…or that people shouldn’t consider the systematic and social implications of those racist comments/costumers/what have you. If you enjoy racist jokes, that’s on you as an individual. But in the same way you don’t appreciate being told that something is wholesale “offensive”, there are going to be a helluva a lot of people who would think that you saying that something ISN’T and can’t be racist because YOU aren’t personally offended is equally if not moreso egregious. It erases their experience and the fact of systematic and underlying racism in this country.

      1. BCW

        I completely understand and have experienced systemic racism. But I think what is actually considered racism IS fairly relative. If 2 out of 3 black people don’t find something to be racist, no one’s opinion is wrong, but its hard to say that in general the action/comment/thought is racist since it doesn’t offend everyone nor is it trying to hold someone down or attack them. But here you are calling me privileged when you know nothing about what I’ve experienced in my life. So you are judging me for speaking my mind when you know nothing about my background.

    2. Anonymous

      Honestly, you seem pretty privileged – even as a POC – if you are seriously trying to argue that racism is relative and not at all systematic…or that people shouldn’t consider the wider-reaching social implications of those racist comments/costumers/what have you. If you enjoy racist jokes, that’s on you as an individual. But in the same way you don’t appreciate being told that something is wholesale “offensive”, there are going to be a helluva a lot of people who would think that you saying that something ISN’T and can’t be racist because YOU aren’t personally offended is equally if not moreso egregious. It erases their experience and the fact of systematic and underlying racism in this country.

    3. ella

      What you’re saying is that you’ll only accept criticism from people if it’s phrased in a certain way and manner that you find easy to take in. Someone who feels offended and attached isn’t likely to think about the difference between, “That’s racist” and “I feel offended and here’s why.” They’re just going to let you know with whatever words are closest to hand, and the fact that they may not choose the best words doesn’t make their point invalid. See also: http://www.derailingfordummies.com/derail-using-anger/

      Also, I’ve tried to go the “I find this offensive and here’s why” route with people, to be more gentle, and they almost always come back with “You’re oversensitive” or “I don’t care” or “Shut the **** up, *****.” So you tell me what I’m supposed to do.

      1. Pussyfooter

        The soft sell can be effective, but sometimes backfires when it comes off as superior.

        I think some ideas above are blurred. It is unclear to me whether BCW thinks only black-face is racist. I agree with Ella that requiring people to report information to you in a way that’s comfortable to you before considering their ideas is a big mistake. Simultaneously, I strongly wonder if choosing to respond to racist incidents with *strategic* lack of hostility (when a person has that space to plan) isn’t the most likely way to effect change.

        This is one important thing I rarely see discussed about racism.
        The people in the discussions often don’t define what type of racism they have in mind; structural, stereotypes, conscious hostility, etc. are fraternal twins, but not the same thing. I think most US whites see calling someone racist as accusing them of malice, while many people are actually talking about one of the “twins.” For example, if only whites have ever attended a certain University and the University gives children of Alumni more weight in considering their applications, that *is* de facto racist institutionalization. And everyone paying federal taxes right now may be contributing to that via federal funding. So yeah, by that definition I must be racist. But, I lack malice–so I doubt that I’m that particular kind. Where I fall on the other types is a grey area to me.

        When one person calls another a racist, instead of pointing out what was wrong with what they did/said, it is often *not at all clear* what they mean. Can you call them a racist jerk AND tell them why, yes. But most people shut down when they feel under attack. It’s instantaneous and physiological. Yes it is stupid and wrong, too, but a fact to consider. OK this sounds over-the-top to me, but it sums it up: “Do you fight to punish or do you fight to change?” (yeah, Gandhi again.)

        Oh, geez, I should’ve posted this yesterday. Most panic-reducing advice I’ve found on discussing racism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbdxeFcQtaU

        1. Pussyfooter

          Trying to say: How someone makes a point does not invalidate their idea. How someone presents a point may completely confuse what idea is being introduced.

          A natural startle response is universal, but if someone also gets the chance to add information, that may improve things.

  60. Melanie

    Sigh. Can someone explain to me how dressing up as a Geisha for Halloween is racist? MUST everyone insist EVERYTHING is racist? Blackface sure, originally it was a demeaning thing for whites to do to blacks. But Native American and Japanese cultures are very interesting cultures. If someone is dressing up as a Geisha I am fairly certain that they aren’t trying to mock them but because they think they are ‘cool’. And they are, they have a fascinating history, as do Native Americans. So allow people a day to live in a cooler culture than the lame American one we have right now where pretending to be anyone you aren’t for a night is apparently frowned upon. Btw if I dress up as a policeman for Halloween does that mean I’m disrespectful to policemen? Or how about any of the other billions of costumes? How about people who wear fat costumes? Lighten up people and unclench.

    1. Rayner

      How about you learn some history, get some sense of cultural identity and understanding, and then we’ll talk?

  61. Lora

    I’m just eating popcorn and waiting for Slim Pickens to ride into this thread, shooting a pistol and shouting, “what in the wide wide world of sports is going on here? I hired you people to try to get a little track laid, not to jump around like a bunch of Kansas City f——-s!”

    1. Bobby Digital

      I really want you to be referencing the fact that people are wearing Halloween costumes to work, period. (Much less debating the pros and cons of wearing racist costumes to work. At their jobs.)

      Because then this comment is hilarious.

  62. ThursdaysGeek

    I grew up as a white child in small-city America and had innocent thoughts of wishing I were someone else, dreaming of living in different cultures or times, based on my imagination and what I read and saw on TV. I think others who are questioning the inherent racism of acting this out had a similar upbringing. But I appreciate all the comments, hearing the views of others. Because most people do not want to be acting in ways that offend others, and until we are told, we may not realize that our words and actions can be offensive.

    Please, when someone is doing something offensive, give their motives the benefit of the doubt, but please, please speak up. A lot of commenters above have told how they changed their words or behaviour, and each of those changes will affect those around them too.

  63. EatASnickers

    I think people have become entirely too political correct and let things bother them way too easy.

    If the costume is deliberately racist or designed to be racist / insulting / hurtful…. sure.

    If someone is just having fun with innocent intentions… eat a Snickers – because you act like a nanny when you’re hungry.

    Pssst – BTW – People have been dressing up like indians, cowboys, gypsies, the two hitmen from Pulp Fiction etc for a LONG time.

  64. Mixedmutt

    Reading this and many of the comments saddened me. There is being considerate of other people and there is being inconsiderate. There is also finding fault, offense and negativity with everything. Similar to the type of people who sue over every little thing. There are so many nationalities and cultures represented in America, there will always be something to offend someone.
    My Jewishness does not get offended by the term ‘jewed down’ although older relatives do. Because i am of a younger generation the swastika thing doesn’t bother me to much, though i am well aware of what it stands for. I have another relative descended from American indian, that person isn’t offended by costumes depicting indians. Should I mention the black and half black relatives?

    I don’t want to live somewhere that is so sanitized that we can no longer have fun celebrating something like halloween. I think the younger generations are less sensitive and whiny because of having been fortunate enough not to have grown up with much evil and hatred directed towards them.

    I am not denying racism…..it is very real.
    I believe these things come down to intent, which often the person claiming offense has no knowledge of. If one is that easily offended, in my opinion, that person is too sensitive, has a chip on their shoulder or isn’t cut out to live in a multi national/racial society. If one is offended, open a non-defensive dialogue. Explain to someone if it makes you uncomfortable. I think you will discover their intent at that point. However, keep in mind our society is so rich and wonderful because of our great melting pot and various nationalities. An indian costume hardly seems offensive to me (without a sign saying ‘hate the indians’). Actually i would love to know more about this part if my ancestry.

    I dont agree with the black face athlete costume at the work place, but i also see that as being very different than a hiring manager using the n word to a select group at the office and indicating her preference not to promote them (something i did witness and report to HR).

    So tired of people always focusing on the differences instead of focusing on our common ground. The more divided, finger pointing and blameful we become, the worse our society and culture will get. Have i been calked names or suspected discrimination in past, yes, but I consider it bullying or someone else having the problem. I have just as much right to live here and i treat everyone i come across with the same respect. I did not experience first hand the sins against our fathers, nor did i commit the ones against others.

    Halloween costumes are not the problem or answer.

    1. Rayner

      Reading these comments makes me happy in some ways. People are learning, engaging in comments, thinking about their actions or inactions and how they affect other people.

      Yes, you can sue over everything but that’s not the answer. But understanding the privileges people have or do not have through ethnicity, gender, presentation and orientation can definitely only help a community, especially one as much as diverse as America.
      Acknowledging those privileges is the first step to changing it.

      Pretending it doesn’t happen is wrong. It’s hurtful. It just drives it further onwards.

      Your Jewishness does not get offended? That’s wonderful. And it’s lovely that you personally think differently of symbols and words that affect other people so much.

      But just because you are not offended, it does not mean others are not. It doesn’t mean they are oversensitive because they take offense to the way that people not of their culture or who don’t share their history mock it, dress up in it, use it for fun and games and then leave it in the dirt when it’s all over.

      It doesn’t mean that the hurt goes away.

      It doesn’t mean that the words or actions that others casually toss around or the symbols that represent pain, suffering, oppression or harm don’t cause pain anymore to people who experienced things differently from you.

      I don’t want to live in a world where people dismiss racism and other ‘isms’ as irrelevant because they stop people from having from.

      I don’t think younger generations – and for the love of God, why are you generalising this by generations? – are less whiny and sensitive.
      I think young people today are getting clued up, and they feel just as strongly as other, older people feel.

      Racism isn’t the only frontier anymore. People have to deal with ablism, racism, transphobia, sexism, cissexism homophobia, and other pervasive forms of discrimination that appear to various members of society in different, intersecting ways. And people are less willing to accept the worse half of the deal, or to say nothing about it.

      But it is not the job of the offended person to open a dialogue, to explain in detail to the person who did the offensive behaviour why their action or word was offensive. Their hurt is enough that you should apologise.

      Intention is not a magic wand. You can try hard to not intend to hurt someone all you like but sometimes, that’s not enough. Sometimes, you do things, or say things that hurt people and then it is your problem.

      And it’s up to you to apologise, to stop doing that behaviour, and if necessary to go and do more research on it. Teaching you is not the responsibility of anybody else except you.

      To you, an Indian costume is not insulting.

      Congratulations.

      To thousands of other people, it is. It doesn’t have to come with a great big sign to be insulting. To others, it’s offensive, it’s hurtful, it’s insulting their culture, their lives, their family history. Seeing people dressing up in their cultural heritage as though it’s just something random, appropriating things that they hold for fun and games like Halloween.

      And their opinion is equally valid.

      You know what I am tired of? I am tired of people dismissing the realities that people of colour, that ethnic minorities, or indeed, any kind of minority group go through because it’s being oversensitive, because it’s pointing fingers. It’s not. Your experiences are obviously very different from other peoples, in a positive way, which is good, and I accept that. I wish everybody could share that same experience but that’s not the reality many people go through in day to day life.

      It’s insulting. It’s hurtful. It’s unfair, and racism like this is a symptom of systemic racism in a system that’s broken.

      Halloween is just a holiday to many people. But to people who have their culture mocked, who have their history degraded and turned into a ‘costume’ to put on and take off, it’s not. It’s trial by fire.

      Just because you treat people with respect does not mean other people do.

      1. ella

        You know what I am tired of? I am tired of people dismissing the realities that people of colour, that ethnic minorities, or indeed, any kind of minority group go through because it’s being oversensitive,

        10000x this. Thank you.

        I’m so tired of being told I’m too sensitive, or that I should learn to deal with nonsense. Why do I have to learn to deal with assholes? How about you try not being an asshole for a change. Why is the burden on me?

    2. Bobby Digital

      “I dont agree with the black face athlete costume at the work place, but i also see that as being very different than a hiring manager using the n word to a select group at the office and indicating her preference not to promote them (something i did witness and report to HR).”

      I mean, really what you’re saying here is that you can only see the most egregious/overt/inarguable displays of racism. Which really isn’t a critique of racism so much as it’s indicative of your ability to perceive/analyze/synthesize subtlety.

      For many people, blackface is like the “n word” (to reference your anecdote) embodied. Like a walking, talking, breathing, lunch-eating banner with that insult emblazoned on it. And if you, as my coworker, come into work as the embodiment of that insult and everyone seems totally cool with it, I’m going to assume that our workplace is, at best, apathetic towards the success of minorities.

      Point being: you seem to see these situations as “very different” based on the amount of literal evidence supplied to you. Again, that’s a You Problem, not a problem with the logic or the evidence.

      And, yeah, I picked this one detail of your post, but I think it’s an important one. The Degrees of Racism thing is so distracting and moot, especially when we’re talking about the workplace. Bad is bad; we can’t just go around advocating for the “more bad” situations.

    3. Liz T

      The SWASTIKA thing doesn’t bother you that much? Like, you don’t care if someone you knows suddenly sports a swastika?

  65. rob

    Stop LOOKING for things that offend you! Dressing up like something has nothing to do with Racism! Do people even know what that word means anymore? It has been overused so much that it covers everything now. What is racist about someone dressing up in traditional Indian clothing? What is racist about coloring your face black if you are dressing up like a black athlete that you are a fan of? It would be kind of hard for people to know you were dressing up as James if your skin is white! African Americans, I realize someone 100 years ago wore black face in a condescending way. I get it. It was mean. My ancestors were slaves in Egypt. Lets move on together shall we? If someone dresses up as a cheerleader, should cheer leaders be upset?

  66. John

    I have a weird question. Wouldn’t it just make sense to cancel Halloween celebrations if 1 person finds certain costumes offensive. I know the person say they don’t want to be known as the fun police but it seems that is how they are acting.

    Also, if we are going to sensor individual’s Halloween costumes, can we also sensor what people place on their desk as far as holiday decorations are concerned or what holiday decorations they can wear.

    Personally myself, I don’t like seeing people wearing pumpkins on their clothes or Christmas trees or desks being decorated. When does this go from just plain having fun and letting loose at the office to it becoming an HR issue.

    FYI – I am really not against anything at work except pot lucks. I love seeing my co-workers enjoying the holidays and when it comes to Halloween I don’t find anything offensive and this is coming from a Mexican-American who is dark skinned and sees his people being made fun of and bashed everyday.

    So I guess, if I could tell the write of the question, just let it go. It’s Halloween. Just have fun.

    1. ella

      “Also, if we are going to sensor individual’s Halloween costumes, can we also sensor what people place on their desk as far as holiday decorations are concerned or what holiday decorations they can wear.”

      *censor. And yes. If it is interfering with employees’ ability to work, an office can absolutely govern what sorts of things can and can’t decorate employees’ desks and/or persons. (It isn’t censorship by the strict definition of the word though, just a rule in an office.)

    2. Forrest

      “Personally myself, I don’t like seeing people wearing pumpkins on their clothes or Christmas trees or desks being decorated. ”

      Man, I am I over false equivalence.

      Also, no one died and appointed you the spokesperson for all minorities on what’s cool or not.

    3. ageistmuch

      Would you find it offensive if I was your co-worker and came to the office Halloween party dressed up as a Jewish concentration camp prisoner? What about if I came to work dressed up as a coolie with the hat and some bucked teeth? How about if I came in a tattered 19th century costume with a shamrock and an empty potato sack? How about if I dressed up as a geisha with a fake knife stuck through my belly and called my self Hari Kari?

  67. Anonymous

    I can’t believe what I’m reading this is what is wrong with people these days everyone wants to be a victim. Seriously someone wants to dress up as his basketball star who is black and that’s racist. You have got to be kidding. If you want to know what is racist is go buy a hip hop or rap cd now that is racist….as far as one or more person refering to white advantage the last time I checked the president of United States of America is black get over it don’t be so sensitive.

    1. Forrest

      yea, all rap and hip hop (which are the same thing by the way) is racist.

      Obama is president! Racism is over! Thats why Zimmerman was convicted…oh wait.

  68. Anonymous

    This entire forum page makes me sad….I’ve managed to read about a hundred comments or so and it’s just amazing how….dense few peoe are on here. We all know blackface is bad and foundation is questionable. However, if some minority girl came to my house dressed as some white Disney princess I wouldn’t be offended.

    Reading all of this I can tell that this issues somehow is as hotly debated as abortion or gun laws, it shouldn’t be. So my only guess is most of you are radicals, why else would you be posting so much here? I’m posting because Im on break and I just wanted to make a point, but not a soul is going to listen. I speak for myself, not to bend others to my views.

    1. Rayner

      Because ‘minority child’ is not making fun of, humiliating, degrading, hurting or offending ‘white’ culture. There’s nothing there for you to be offended by so…. you aren’t offended.

      So… I don’t what point you wanted to make, but it’s uh… really not being made.

      1. Not American

        How do you know what “minority child” is intending or not? You are simply assuming no offense was intended. but by the same token choosing not to make that assumption in regard to the original poster.

        And then you are being completely out of line telling someone they cannot be offended by someone who means no offence. If that is the case then you have proven the original poster incorrect.

        No offence intended then no offence should be taken.

        1. Rayner

          Also not Americanas well.

          I’m not quite sure what you’re aiming at…. but I don’t get it. Disney princesses (barring one or two blatant exceptions – I’m thinking big pink or blue poofy dress with glitter) are pretty inoffensive all around – I’m having a hard time thinking why one would be specifically offended by that on terms of race or ethnicity.

          And I’m not saying you absolutely cannot be offended by someone who means no offense.

          What I am saying is that Disney costumes such as the big poofy dresses with tiaras and wands (again, barring exceptions) are pretty diverse, neutral in terms of ethnicity especially later ones, and they don’t degrade, harm the image of, humiliate, or insult a whole culture or group of people which is the point that people have been making about black face and Native American outfits.

          So I’m having a hard time thinking of why you would be offended that a small child was wearing one. Not saying it’s impossible, but…

          Can you explain better what you meant?

          1. That guy

            I’m talking about how someone said it would be racist if a white girl went as the princess from the “Princess and the frog” movie. What would you all say if two friends went as the two main characters in “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer”? Say one was black and went as Lincoln and the other who was white went as William H. Johnson. No face paint, just the customes.

            1. Forrest

              No, no one said it would be racist if a white girl went as the black disney princess. They said it would be racist to dress the white girl up in blackface in order to be the black disney princess.

              There’s a difference.

    2. ageistmuch

      I find it sad that apparently NO ONE understands the racist history of these United States. If they did, there would be no argument about the fact that black face is about as racist as you get.

  69. Not American

    Only in America would anyone worry about what people wore for Halloween and try and interpret it as a deliberate slur against some race or other.

    Is dressing as a 1950’s nun OK?

    Is wearing a cap and gown insulting to graduates if the person wearing it does not hold a degree?

    Is dressing as a pregnant woman insulting to women who cannot conceive?

    Is dressing as a witch insulting to wiccans ?

    Is dressing as a woman when you are a man insulting to women?

    Is dressing a man when you are a women insulting to men?

    Is dressing as a condom insulting to people who do not condone contraception?

    Is dressing as a prostitute when you actually give sex away for free insulting to prostitutes?

    Is dressing as a school girl when you left school 20 years ago insulting to school girls?

    Is dressing as a cheerleader when you never were one insulting to cheer leaders?

    Ad infinitum.

    I guess everyone can just have “fun” dressing as themselves.

    1. llamathatducks

      For some of your rhetorical questions the answer is indeed yes, and what differentiates them from the others is that such a costume would be mocking an already oppressed group.

    2. ageistmuch

      I suggest that you stop making senseless analogies and go pick up so reading material and learn about racism and how it has hurt people and continues to hurt people today. Perhaps then you will be in a better position to understand why wearing racist Halloween costumes actually matters.

  70. goober

    in response to the original question, i would not say anything. i would make a mental note of the costumes people wore and keep it moving. if people are comfortable wearing blackface to the company party it’s clearly a culture that tolerates such behavior. while your complaint may change the costumes worn that day, it won’t change the overall culture. you will just have a more difficult time deciphering who’s an idiot and who’s not.

  71. Jenna

    Blackface is offensive, no doubt. However I don’t see anything wrong with dressing up as a geisha for example. They are beautiful and admired, and Halloween is the only time during the year that we can be one. Unless you’re planning to travel to Kyoto. You don’t have to look Japanese to be a geisha. As long as it’s beautiful and realistic, not purposely exaggerated.

  72. ajm

    I think everyone should just live in the moment and quit getting offended by everything that goes on…who gives a rats ass what people dress up like for Halloween!!

    Oh my, that person is wearing blue and I don’t like it…take it off, Now! Society today sucks!!

  73. Sue

    ACKKK can’t even stomach to read all of this drivel. Racism racism schasism. GET OVER YOURSELF! Something is always going to offend someone. Put your big boy and girl panties on and GET OVER IT. For Christ’s sake. We can’t read the news these days without someone whining about something as being racist. Good lord.

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