Celebrities have gotten lots of press (and NOT the kind they want!) by wearing culturally insensitive Halloween costumes. How can you know what is appropriate or inappropriate to wear?

This Halloween, let the STAR be your guide:

S – Sensitivity

T – Trust

A – Appreciation

R – Respect

S – Be SENSITIVE to history and the power imbalance between whites and people of color. For example, younger people might not understand the history of black face – that throughout history white people imitated black people in demeaning ways. Those stereotypes and degradations translated into where you could live, whether you could work and support your family, whether a sick loved one could get medical help and so forth. Demeaning depictions of all kinds – in costumes, in film, on TV, in cartoons, etc. – means that someone had the power to humiliate you, define you and use your cultural markers any way they want without understanding your cultural or suffering the challenges your group faced.

T – In any solid relationship, we need to TRUST that someone is not out to hurt us. A sense of humor is important but we’d like to trust our friends and colleagues not to use humor at our expense. We want to trust that someone is not finding fun in our suffering. For example, last year some college students dressed up as NFL star, Ray Rice, dragging a female dummy behind them. We build trust by using humor that includes everyone.

A – When people wear stereotyped costumes, they go for the most negative assumptions for a group. But, instead of dressing up as a “Dirty Mexican” why don’t people show their APPRECIATION for the Mexican culture by dressing up as Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice? Rather than dressing up as a “Muslim Terrorist” why not dress as one of the many Muslim scientists who invented breakthroughs in medicine, surgery, physics, algebra, geometry, astrology and chemistry?

R – RESPECT means honoring the fullness of each human being. To treat an entire ethnic group as a costume is to reduce the people in that culture to caricatures.  Every ethnic group has a diverse and broad culture with much variety within it. Caricatures paint people as one-dimensional “cute”, “exotic” or “dangerous” non-human objects.  When people are not seen as human, equal to you, like you, it is license for mistreatment and discrimination.

It’s easy to talk about and blame others who we think are responsible for the racial tensions we experience today. But something as simple (and complex!) as choosing a costume can add to or diminish our country’s racial divides.

* If you know someone who is part of an organization that wants to focus on civility and good-old-fashioned kindness, would you send this article to them or tell them about O’Halloran Diversity Productions? They can reach me at: susan@susanohalloran.com and we will set up a short conversation to see if I can be of help to them. Thanks in advance!

This article may be reprinted with this acknowledgement: 

Susan O’Halloran works with organizations and individuals to create more culturally competent and enjoyable relationships. www.SusanOHalloran.com