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?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 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.

  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: – 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. iseeshiny*

                I think a lot of people have had moments like that that make them cringe in retrospect. I know I have.

                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*

              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:

      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?



            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 –


          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*


            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*

          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? 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*


                  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:

      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.


            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. Sophia*

      Blackface is awful. But let’s please not use this as a discussion of who is more oppressed than others.

      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*


      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?


                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.”

  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?”


          “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*


        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.


      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.