Oct 26 2011

We’re a Culture, Not a Costume: Ohio University Students Teaching What NOT to Wear

Fed up with the annual parade of white folks in blackface, “Indian squaws,” and other culturally insensitive Halloween costumes on their campus, a group of students at Ohio University decided to do something about it.

Members of the campus club STARS (Students Teaching Against Racism) created a poster series with the theme “We’re A Culture, Not A Costume,” featuring Halloween revelers dressed in costumes STARS members consider sterotypical and offensive.

The group says the intention of the posters is to:

“Educate and facilitate discussion about racism and to promote racial harmony and to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings.”

The campaign has definitely incited dialogue, though some of what is being posted on the Internet is not fit to be printed here. Melissa, who blogged about the poster campaign at her website Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, had to disable her comments due to the volume of racist  remarks she received.

Arizona University student, Kristine Bui, wrote this about the posters in her school’s paper:

“It’s hard to explain exactly what is so wrong about being a geisha or a sheik for Halloween. It’s unsettling. It’s a feeling I’ve always struggled to articulate — a discomfort that sort of just sits in the place between your heart and your stomach, quietly nagging. It’s a sense of being wronged without knowing exactly what was done to you.

“People who think racism is dead think so because they don’t see active discrimination. They think, ‘But minorities are allowed to do everything I’m allowed to do, so where’s the harm?’ STARS’ poster campaign calls attention to another problem: Minorities are often made into caricatures … As a minority, you’re a character, not a person. People dress up as you on Halloween. On TV, you’re the token black guy, easily replaced by some other black guy after one season.

“Racism is so much stealthier now. It doesn’t announce itself, and it’s complicated.”

 

STARS President ‘Sarah’ recently posted this update on her Tumbler page:

POSTER CAMPAIGN UPDATE:
Any questions about the posters can be sent to OHIOUSTARS@GMAIL.COM. We are so proud of all the support but it’s overwhelming; We have less than 10 members in our group. lol We ask that you do not personally email any of the exec’s or message their personal tumblrs. Thank you guys so much for the love! The purpose was to educate and create dialogue and it did :) We have a meeting with a lawyer on Monday so we can protect our posters and the posters will be all over Ohio University’s campus this week! Again, thanks for the support and have a happy Halloween!
Best, Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) at Ohio University Executive board

 

Although I’ve never been one to wear ethnically stereotypical or disrespectful costumes, I am definitely thinking more deeply about this issue. These posters have inspired me  to take a mental inventory of my own Halloween costume choices over the years, and I don’t think a casual walk through the costume store will ever be the same.

Congratulations on all your hard work STARS. You’ve got people thinking, talking, and costume changing.