Dressing Up as Someone of a Different Race for Halloween

Don't go as a Mexican, a black guy, or an Asian dude

Jessica Peterson/ Getty Images

With people of color more prominent in pop culture than ever before, some costume lovers face a dilemma: Is it all right to dress up as someone of a different race for Halloween?

The answer to that question depends on the costume you’ve chosen and your presentation of it, not to mention the person you’ve decided to duplicate for the occasion. Following the tips below will lower the odds that you’ll make a racial gaffe if you dress up as a person of another race for Halloween.

Go as a Particular Person

Under no circumstances is it okay to dress up as a "Mexican", "black guy" or "Asian dude" for Halloween. A racial group does not make for an appropriate costume, and any desire to dress up as a generic minority for Halloween is a pretty good indicator that you’ve bought into stereotypes about the group in question. To raise awareness about this issue, Ohio University group Students Teaching About Racism in Society launched a campaign called "We're a culture, not a costume."

Instead of dressing up as a generic racial group for Halloween, choose a particular individual to dress up as, preferably one who’s known for suiting up in certain ensembles. Golfer Tiger Woods often wears red polo shirts and black pants while competing. Throw on such an outfit and walk around with a golf club in hand, and many people will pick up on the fact that you’re Mr. Woods for Halloween.

Suiting up as any athlete who wears a jersey is one way to be easily identifiable. Most basketball fans know that Steph Curry is No. 30.

Of course, your costume needn’t be relegated to the sports world. With his trademark sequined glove and red leather jacket, Michael Jackson is an instantly recognizable costume.

No Blackface

Avoid blackface like the plague when dressing up as a person of a different race for Halloween. Recognize that many African Americans consider blackface to be as offensive as the N-word. If you’re choosing to go as a minority celebrity who wears attire that’s recognizable to the masses, there’s no need to darken your skin. 

The same goes for taping your eyes back to appear Asian. Instead, choose to go as a highly recognizable Asian figure for Halloween, such as buddy team Harold and Kumar in their orange jumpsuits from the “Guantanamo Bay” film or the Japanese schoolgirl Gogo Yubari, who handled a meteor hammer in “Kill Bill.”

On Halloween, you should also reconsider throwing on an Afro wig. While natural hair has made a comeback in the black community, most African Americans today don’t sport 1970s style Afros, so unless you’re dressing up as Dolemite or another blaxploitation hero from that era, you should question the need to rock a faux Afro for Halloween. On the other hand, if your costume for Halloween is Bob Marley, you’re a lot less likely to offend people by donning a dreadlock wig, as locks were a staple of his look. But even in this case, it's wise to exercise caution.

Some people may still view such wigs as a mockery of natural black hairstyles.

Wear a Mask

You can avoid making many of the racial gaffes that befall Halloween celebrants by simply wearing a mask. A mask will remove any temptation to use blackface, tape back your eyes or make similar racially offensive moves. A variety of manufacturers offer masks of President Barack Obama, Michael Jackson and other famous people of color.

Avoid Stereotypical Costumes

Some costumes are just asking for trouble. Avoid politically incorrect costumes that fuel racial stereotypes. People of color aren’t likely to appreciate a white person dressing up as Aunt Jemima, a Muslim terrorist or an “illegal alien.” Question your motivation for wanting to wear a Halloween costume that’s likely to be regarded as racist. It may seem like a funny idea to you but will feel like a slap in the face to the communities mocked by the costume.