If wearing culturally insensitive costumes, don the stigma, too

Jazmyn Griffin

Editor's note: This is part of our weekly Point/Counterpoint series. To view the opposing viewpoint, click here

Halloween has always been a night where people dress in creative costumes and attend social events. Walking down the blocks of West Campus, however, are a shocking amount of culturally insensitive costumes and inappropriately themed parties. These partygoers don stereotypical embellishments but rarely realize the histories behind them and the harm it does to students and people of color. This Halloween, if you wish to make a culture a costume, wear the painful accessories that go along with it.

If you want to be black, take the social stigmas that accompany being a black American. Embody the deeply rooted anger that comes with constant oppression, not just the cool pose. Walk into a room with people thinking you are a rap song and not a scholar. Take the lower income and save money to buy those Jordans. Joke about ebonics while realizing it stems from a historical lack of education imposed upon your newfound race. If you pull off the right look, maybe go into a store with employees following you, since you might steal from them. If you really want to get into character, dress as an athlete, as even today, black university students are automatically assumed to have only gotten here through athletic scholarships. Take in the microaggressions of small derogatory comments from your friends of other races and the put-downs that morph into self-hatred.

If you want to wear a sombrero to look Hispanic, wear the shame of being thought of as a low-wage worker rather than a contributing member of society. Call yourself Mexican and ignore the many other Latin American cultures with their own unique traditions. Build a makeshift puddle to recreate the rivers on the southern border while friends dressed as las migras (the Border Patrol) pretend to capture and deport you. Speak gibberish to imitate Spanish, but also speak of the struggle of people always assuming you’re an illegal immigrant — that you, as a human being, are against the law.  

Ironically, students of color won’t attend these insensitive parties. If this were truly an attempt to appreciate another culture rather than a racist joke, minority students would flock to the events — instead, they are offended. 151 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, 59 years after the civil rights movement and less than 65 years after the first black students were even allowed to be Longhorns, we’re still struggling with issues of race. Living in a country and city with a deep history of racism, the effects are impossible to undo overnight. However, a growing minority population at UT and an explicit emphasis on diversity should prompt white students to embrace fellow student cultures rather than ignorantly and irresponsibly mock them. As we begin to close the distance between races, reinforcing stereotypes only furthers the sting of prejudice.

So this Halloween, just be yourself. Modern society is made up of people of all races, but many dress in similar clothing, speak English and have similar interests and hobbies. As Americans, many who would traditionally identify with a distinct culture have fully assimilated into the white mainstream, the only marker of their history being their skin. Their ancestors abandoned traditions to assimilate into Western ideals, yet standard history courses don’t teach these stories of loss and abnegation, creating an internal identity crisis for young minorities and first-generation Americans.

No matter what race, all university students made it to a higher level of education. While college isn’t always an option for oppressed minorities, students should be proud to achieve a degree without being reminded of how they’re caricatured in the media. Post-Halloween party, go back to your normal life that no one questions or can dress up as without being accused of not having a costume, but the stereotypes portrayed this weekend will haunt those who are consistently discriminated against.

Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston.