Is Your Halloween Costume Offensive?

We asked six people of color how to avoid ruining Halloween.
October 23, 2019, 7:43pm

It seems pretty clear: No one should wear blackface — or any costumes that perpetuate racial or ethnic tropes. But every year, politicians and celebrities still get it wrong.

Most recently, a photo emerged of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing brownface at a 2001 “Arabian Nights”-themed party at the school where he was a teacher. The yearbook photograph shows him wearing a turban and robes with his face, neck, and hands darkened.


Other memorable instances include former Disney star Hilary Duff wearing a pilgrim costume with her then-boyfriend dressed in a Native American costume for a Halloween party in Beverly Hills.

“Halloween is an exhausting time of the year for me,” said Henu Josephine Tarrant, a Native American of the Ho-Chunk, Rappahanock, Kuna, and Hopi tribes. “You're definitely probably going to see something offensive.” Many people of color feel belittled when they see their race, ethnicity, or culture turned into a costume.

“If you are dressing up as someone who is supposed to be Mexican, using a sombrero, a mustache, a donkey, that tells me that you don't respect me,” said Sara Hinojos, an assistant professor at Queens College-CUNY. “For me, it’s a reflection of how the mainstream or people are treating Mexicans in general.”

But there are grey areas, too. What if you dress as a public figure whom you admire, like Barack Obama or Frida Kahlo? What if you dress as a character from a movie?

VICE News brought together six people of color to review a variety of Halloween costumes and discuss how they would feel if they saw someone wearing them.

Cover: Nandi Howard and Sarah Deng discuss a Mulan Halloween costume.

Edited by Jessica Opon and Danny Card.