“Horrifying” Racist, Sexist Costumes Cause Halloween Backlash

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This Halloween season there is an offensive offensive, with groups pushing retailers to stop selling costumes that they consider racist, insensitive, inappropriate, or unnecessary.

Earlier this week, Pottery Barn decided to stop selling kids’ Halloween costumes that Asian American civil rights groups deemed as offensive. One of the costumes featured a kimono, while the other was a sushi chef, complete with a fake knife and a prominent Japanese flag. The outfits weren’t caricatures or cartoon-like, and to some extent may even have been glorifying these characters. But the fact that they were presented as characters to have fun with was enough for some to be offended.

“Our problem is not with the attire itself; it is with the fact that Pottery Barn is marketing these outfits as costumes,” wrote Ling Woo Liu, director of strategic communications for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In the past, Liu has endorsed campaigns at Ohio University to make students and others rethink their choice of Halloween outfits, using the motto “We’re a culture, not a costume.” For that matter, as Inside Higher Ed noted, several college campuses around the U.S. have proactively been trying to discourage students from wearing offensive costumes this Halloween. For instance, the University of Colorado at Boulder has cautioned students against dressing up as hillbillies, Asian nerds, cowboys, Native Americans, ghetto characters, and other racial or ethnic stereotypes.

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The campaign caused Denver Post columnist Alicia Caldwell to wonder if there are any Halloween costumes whatsoever that are 100% non-offensive. After making the case that certain groups could be offended by classic costumes like witches, hobos, nuns, and fortune tellers, Caldwell consulted a CU professor who studies stereotypes and offered the advice, “Probably your safest bet is to dress as the devil.”

By dropping its Asian costumes, Pottery Barn has joined a handful of other retailers that have been forced to offer apologies and remove outfits from stores and websites this Halloween season. A month ago, Walmart pulled a “Naughty Leopard” costume after images of the outfit—intended for toddlers and viewed as inappropriately sexy due to the word “naughty”—went viral.

Soon thereafter, a “Turban and Beard” costume that resembled Osama Bin Laden disappeared from the shelves of Walmart and Rite Aid, after complaints from the Sikh Coalition, among others. Over in the UK, meanwhile, the Asda and Tesco chains decided it was unwise to sell “Mental Patient” and “Psycho Ward” costumes after receiving criticism about insensitivity to those suffering from mental illness.

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Another group that has denounced a costume as upsetting has yet to been appeased, however. Jezebel, Salon, and assorted bloggers have called out a Marvel Spider-Girl outfit as “horrifying” and disappointing, if not “gender conformist” and offensive because it’s overly girly, with go-go boots and a frilly pink skirt. In comic books and cartoons, the real Spider-Girl is dressed essentially just like Spider-Man — who usually doesn’t wear a skirt or go-go boots.

Regardless, for now at least, girly pink Spider-Girl costumes are still available for sale at Walmart, among other stores.