Don’t let racism be the real horror this Hallowe’en!

Tuesday 25-10-2016 - 16:26

NUS Scotland Black Students' Officer Shuwanna Aaron on steering clear of racist costumes this Hallowe'en.


Hallowe’en is fast approaching and you’ve probably already started to think about your costume; after all it’s the one time of the year …well except for Freshers week, Christmas, New Years, Robby’s 21st birthday a charity run, etc that you get to dress up as something you’re not and take on a caricature. It’s fun and most of us love it, but sometimes it’s just plain racist! 

Racist? What do you mean? This is a conversation that takes place on campuses every year but is also one that is misunderstood by many. So before you don your fake Afro, Native American headdress, “sexy” niqab, blackface Gangsta outfit, etc – think twice, or as many times as it takes to convince yourself not to wear it. 

Costumes that imitate race, culture and perpetuate stereotypes are deeply offensive and harmful to communities of colour. They reinforce white capitalist power structures, which stigmatize people of colour and their cultures whilst also profiting from the commodification of these very people and cultures. This is known as cultural appropriation. 

  • Cultural Appropriation in its simplest form refers to the power dynamic in which members of a dominant community take elements of culture from groups of people they have systematically oppressed. Cultural Appropriation is incredibly nuanced so click here to learn more.

People of colour live with, and are persecuted on a daily basis for what we wear and what we look like – our cultures and our bodies. Can you imagine being a Black man who happens to like sports wear but can’t walk through his local supermarket without being followed around by security guards, then to go to a Halloween party to see someone black-faced in a hoody calling themselves a gangsta? Or always being pulled out of the security line at the airport and seeing someone dressed up in your religious wear at Halloween, calling themselves a terrorist, only to be called oversensitive or racist when you complain against it? No? Well then, you can see why certain “costumes” are not just fun and how they perpetuate the stigma against some communities.

So, Don’t let Racism be the real Horror this Halloween! Check and double-check your costume to avoid the exploitation and degradation of people of colour. Oh, and whilst you’re at it also avoid sexism, slut-shaming, homophobia, transphobia and ableism. Further explanation required?…? Google is your friend! But I’ve slotted in some links to help.

Trick or Treat
Shuwanna Aaron

Useful links:

We’ve collated some articles that demonstrate what we mean by inappropriate costumes and highlight how costumes can be racist, transphobic, or examples of cultural appropriation, ableism and sexism. Check out this article, Buzzfeed here (beware if you’re spooked by swearing!), examples of racist costumes here and a horrific transphobic example here.

If you’d prefer to watch something instead the there’s this video that considers why slut shaming, sexist costumes, racist costumes and cultural attire costumes are inappropriate, this video that explains cultural appropriation and this video which discusses some of the common arguments around costumes that are racist.



Has your students’ association done work in this area before? Share it with me on In the mean time check out this helpful checklist from a university in America. You can also:

  • Download the poster to put up in your students' association
  • Download a graphic for sharing on Facebook and Twitter


NUS Scotland, Reclaim Black Stories

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