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With Halloween just around the corner, many organizations will be hosting office gatherings, costume contests and opportunities to bring your children in for trick or treating. This might be the first time your company is celebrating the holiday in person since the onset of the pandemic, and you might feel pressure to get creative with your costume. But remember: Some costumes unfortunately might be seen by your coworkers as insensitive or offensive, or even racist, misogynistic or highly inappropriate.
Here are three things to keep in mind to ensure everyone can feel included and enjoy Halloween:
Don’t glorify those who have caused harm
Halloween costumes are not an opportunity to glorify those who have caused others harm. The popular Netflix series Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story centers around the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. He targeted and killed mostly Black, Asian Latino men. The series sparked renewed interest in Dahmer, manifesting in the sale of Dahmer Halloween costumes. Some online retailers, including eBay, have now shut down the sale of these costumes.
Even if they are currently trending on Twitter or are infamous figures, dressing up as any of these individuals can be incredibly hurtful to colleagues: Osama bin Laden, Vladimir Putin, Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Epstein or others who inflicted pain. Finally, do not use inspiration from mass shootings, Covid-19, natural disasters or movements like #MeToo to come up with “creative” or “funny” costumes. This again has the potential to cause hurt and harm to your colleagues.
Don’t embrace cultural appropriation
Halloween costumes are also not an opportunity to appropriate someone else’s culture. Dressing up as a member of a culture that isn’t your own in a costume that’s “funny” or an exaggeration is offensive and hurtful. This can include dressing up as a geisha or Native American or in an Arab sheik costume, a grass skirt with a coconut top or a poncho with a sombrero. Don’t appropriate particular symbols or pieces of clothing that hold significant meaning for those from historically marginalized groups. It’s not a costume for them; it’s part of their community, culture and everyday way of life.
Finally, blackface is highly inappropriate, hurtful and racist. Blackface is a racist practice dating back to minstrel shows in the 1820s. White performers would pretend to be Black, darkening their skin, pretending to have oversized lips, and wearing wigs and exaggerated costumes. They would ridicule and mock Black people, often depicting them as being ignorant or lazy. Once you understand this history, you now know it’s never appropriate to wear blackface for a Halloween costume.
Do discuss intent versus impact
If someone does show up to work with an inappropriate Halloween costume, don’t wait for human resources to intervene. Be the person who intervenes on behalf of your team. Pull the person aside and talk to them about intent versus impact. Here’s an example of what you could say:
“I wanted to share that some of our colleagues are hurt by what you are wearing. I am sure this wasn’t your intent, and I wanted to share why this costume is so upsetting for them.”
Or, you can say:
“I am sure when you chose this costume you intended to be creative. Unfortunately for some of our colleagues, this costume isn’t funny. It’s very painful for them, and here’s why.”
Encourage your colleague to apologize to those they harmed. Ask your colleague to share what they learned and why they now understand the costume was harmful. An apology is a key to helping rebuild trust among colleagues.
Remember that Halloween can be another wonderful opportunity to bond with colleagues. And when in doubt about your costume selection, don’t be afraid to ask someone else’s opinion. To be on the safe side, stick to dressing up as a piece of fruit, or as a Halloween classic like a pumpkin or a witch. More important than the costume is the opportunity to connect and make sure everyone feels included and able to fully enjoy the festivities.