It is becoming far too commonplace to see articles and images going viral on social media about offensive Halloween costumes.  The innovative “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign developed by students at Ohio University made a strong point that has been replicated on many college campuses.  However, we have already seen pictures of acelebrity and everyday citizens this month reflecting hurtful depictions of people from other racial and ethnic groups.
While it may seem obvious that parodying demographic groups is wrong, the problem persists.  Why might someone do something so hurtful?  We suggest three risk factors:

  1. Lack of Learning – Did the people involved not learn about how hurtful and offensive it is to wear blackface or to parody other cultures?  Was the affirmation of and respect for other racial, ethnic, or cultural groups not part of their education, both at home and in school?  What messaging have they gotten about other groups of people?
  2. Lack of Relationships – Do these individuals not have relationships with people of diverse backgrounds?  Have they not developed an understanding of the experiences and perspectives of others?
  3. Lack of Empathy – Can they not imagine how hurtful it would be to have their groups parodied, mocked, or worse?  Do they not care about how their actions or behaviors will be received by people from other backgrounds?

All of us — as family members, classmates, colleagues, educators, neighbors, and friends — have a responsibility to address these challenges.  As we are increasingly noting in Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities programs, inclusion requires intention.  This Halloween season offers an important reminder of what it will take to truly understand and respect one another.


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