It’s officially autumn and that means Halloween is just over a month away. I’ve always loved Halloween, trick or treating, Halloween parties, Halloween decorations, haunted houses, Halloween costumes, and anything or everything to do with the holiday. I even grew up with a mother who made fantastic Halloween costumes, the perfect in every detail type that turned heads and won prizes in costume contests.
My husband and I always loved Halloween. We went out every year on the holiday, hosted a party or went to a party. We couldn’t have been more excited than when our first child arrived on October 31st. So cool. What a fun birthday for a kid … you get to put on a costume, go trick or treat, have a party and have your birthday cake.
We had a lot of crazy costumes over the years, but never anything that could be possibly construed as racist or discriminatory.
It’s just not funny
There are so many ways to dress up for Halloween that aren’t offensive to any group. Somehow though, there are people who choose costumes that belittle, demean or culturally appropriate others. And by that, I’m not talking about a child dressing up as a traditionally garbed Native American because they read about them in a book and were fascinated. I’m talking about somebody dressing up as a Native American and carrying a prop that represents a tomahawk designed to seem bloody, and demonstrate the stereotype of savagery. Don’t wear an elaborate headdress … Headdresses have cultural significance.
It can be safer to echo the look of a recognizable character such as Pocahontas, Mulan or Moana than to figure out how to dress to avoid inadvertently disrespecting something that has meaning to a group of people. But please don’t do it like this:
Don’t dress up like a Nazi or as a “World War II Evacuee Girl”.
Dressing up like Osama bin Laden is not cool, and neither is making light of any terrorist, including the homegrown variety.
Dressing up as the twin towers or any tragedy is a hideously horrible idea.
Or somebody wearing a shirt that says things like “Property of Psychiatric Ward”.
Want to dress up as a doctor or nurse? Go for it. But don’t dress up as something labeled for the pandemic or COVID-19.
Many people don’t see the harm in dressing up as disabled people or people with health issues. It isn’t simply that a physical disability isn’t a costume. Mocking or making light of a health condition, even mental illness, can cause harm and increase the social stigma around that condition. Disability is not a Halloween costume. Seriously, who finds a deadly eating disorder funny?
If you have a disability, there’s nothing wrong with making your mobility aid, assistive device or disability a part of your costume. It becomes an issue when non-disabled people treat things like canes, walkers, wheelchairs, eye patches, anorexia, PTSD and other mentally based illnesses like costumes that can be put on for a night. Doing so turns people’s trauma into light entertainment, and that’s not kind. Taking your own personal reality and making it into a costume of your own design … there’s definitely nothing wrong with that.
Go on a website that sells Halloween costume merchandise, or visit a Halloween store and you’re bound to see costumes and props for non-disabled people to wear for a night or a party and then take off. It trivializes the reality disabled people suffer with and ultimately must live with.
Think about this for a moment: Halloween costumes usually are something you wish you could be, something scary, or something funny. If your costume is one that signifies a disability, nobody thinks you’re dressing up as something you wish you could be, because nobody wants to be disabled. Therefore, you’re highlighting disability as something scary or something funny. Either way, it’s at best thoughtless and at worst downright cruel to real people whose disabilities shouldn’t be treated as scary or as funny.
By the way, disabled people are still disabled on and around Halloween. If people can’t tell the difference between someone’s real cane and someone’s costume cane, they may not recognize that an individual really needs the aid. Consequently, they may not think to move out of the way or offer a seat to somebody using an assistive device to walk or stand.
Holiday for everyone
Halloween and seasonal events that signify autumn, such as parties, hay rides, bonfires, street fairs, corn mazes and other things should be made as accessible as possible for everyone. Some things such as picking apples in orchards and pumpkins in fields simply can’t accommodate everyone, and that’s perfectly fine. Farm stands and typically located at those types of places typically can be accessible, and that’s terrific. Effort can be put into more widespread wheelchair access, sensory-friendly events, education about different types of needs, and the destigmatizing of disabilities.
Disability evolves into a key component of identity for many people. Speaking as one such person, I can attest to the fact that it’s not a factor that’s welcomed, or that comes easily. It’s a constant battle that most of us fight and struggle with for years.
People who know me are aware that I’m not a person who gets easily offended by things. If you dress your 3-year-old up like an old lady with a housecoat, fake gray hair in a bun, and a walker for Halloween, I’m not going to be offended; I’m going to laugh. If you do that as an adult, it’s not funny. If you’re debating with yourself about a costume because you think it might be offensive to somebody, or to some group of people, please just choose something else. There are so many options – why be unkind? The life experiences of disabled people are not fair fuel for entertainment.
What are you dressing up as this year for Halloween? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org because I’d really love to know!