Halloween (I): We’re a Culture Not a Costume

As Hallowee’en approaches, so too does the question of dress, or more specifically, costume.

The University of Colorado at Boulder has issued a statement  – – – sensible and sensitive and recognizing First Amendment values.  Here’s the statement from their website:

Halloween is a fun and celebratory occasion. It is often a time used to portray a character or symbol different than oneself. Unfortunately, stores often sell stereotypical and offensive costumes. If you are planning to celebrate Halloween by dressing up in a costume, consider the impact your costume decision may have on others in the CU community.

As a CU Buff, making the choice to dress up as someone from another culture, either with the intention of being humorous or without the intention of being disrespectful, can lead to inaccurate and hurtful portrayals of other peoples’ cultures in the CU community. For example, the CU-Boulder community has in the past witnessed and been impacted by people who dressed in costumes that included blackface or sombreros/serapes; people have also chosen costumes that portray particular cultural identities as overly sexualized, such as geishas, “squaws,” or stereotypical, such as cowboys and Indians. Additionally, some students have also hosted offensively-themed parties that reinforce negative representations of cultures as being associated with poverty (“ghetto” or “white trash/hillbilly”), or with crime or sex work.

The goal of CU-Boulder this Halloween and every day is to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.

CU-Boulder values freedom of expression and creativity both in and outside of the classroom. The CU community also values inclusiveness, respect and sensitivity. While everyone has the freedom to be expressive, we also encourage you to celebrate that you are a part of a vibrant, diverse CU community that strives toward respecting others.

Have a safe and fun Halloween.

However, some reporting on the issue as just another attempt at political correctness.

The “We’re a Culture Not a Costume” campaign seemingly started at Ohio University with a poster campaign that went viral.


Great reporting in 2011 on the issue from Colorlines and from The Root.