Halloween is fast approaching and many of you are going to be dressing up! Unfortunately, it can be hard to choose a Halloween costume that is fun and creative but doesn’t demean or stereotype marginalized groups. To help you choose an awesome and respectful Halloween costume the TRUSU Equity Committee has put together this list of tips.

Avoiding Stereotypes

Costumes that demean, stereotype, appropriate, or mock, different races, genders, religions, cultures, etc. are extremely harmful to those groups. Avoid these common stereotyping issues:

Dressing Up as Aboriginal People

Aboriginal people have been, and continue to be, discriminated against based on their racial identity. This history of oppression is represented in various demeaning costumes that stereotype Aboriginal people, culture, regalia, and other aspects of Aboriginal identity. Wearing an Aboriginal headdress, or dressing up as a “sexy Pocahontas” promotes a harmful attitude towards Aboriginal people, implies all Aboriginal communities are the same, sexualizes Aboriginal women and girls, and legitimizes violence against Aboriginal people.[1]

Avoid costumes like these to respect Aboriginal people and our journey towards reconciliation:

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Wearing Blackface/Brownface/Yellowface

Changing your skin colour by wearing blackface or other pigmentation to mock people of colour has a long and extremely racist history. It allows the wearer to to take on the racial identity of black, brown, or Asian people as a costume without having to address the discrimination and racism that black, brown, or Asian people experience every day.[2]

Avoid costumes like these to respect racialized people and combat racism:

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Ridiculing Religious Groups

The world is full of different religions that are steeped in rich cultural and spiritual meaning. Wearing a burqa, turban, kippah, or other religious garment to mock Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, or other religious believers is demeaning and disrespectful to those faith communities.[3]

Avoid costumes like these to respect different religions and combat Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, and other religious oppression:

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Exploiting Asian Stereotypes

Western cultures like Canada’s have a troubling history of fetishizing and demeaning Asian cultures. This can present in a number of different forms from sexualizing Asian women and stereotyping them as “exotic, demure, and obedient to men” to stereotyping Asian men as weak, nerdy, and non-masculine.[4]

Avoid costumes like these to respect Asian people and combat racism:

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Mocking Trans People

“During a time when there are murders of transgender people reported every week, [dressing up as Caitlyn Jenner to mock Trans people is not funny]. Because the “joke” those [costumes] are suggesting is that “this man could never be a woman.” It’s a very demeaning statement that reduces the realities of transgender people to a tacky sight gag.”[5]

Avoid costumes like these to respect Trans people and combat Transphobia:

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Choosing A Respectful Costume

When in doubt always follow the “punch up, not down” rule, to make light of the powerful and privileged in society and not the power-less and the marginalized. Ask yourself: Does this costume make fun of a disadvantaged or minority group in society? Does my costume perpetuate harmful attitudes or beliefs about groups of people who have been, or continue to be, discriminated against? If the answers to these questions are yes, then you should pick another costume. If the answers to these questions are no, then go ahead!

Click here to get started with a list of costume options that are fun, topical, and avoid demeaning or stereotyping!

For more information, contact:

Dylan Robinson
Equity Coordinator
Gagandeep Singh
Vice President Internal


[1] Huncar, Andrea. “Stop Selling ‘racist garbage,’ shop selling Indigenous Halloween costumes told.” CBC News. cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/stop-selling-racist-garbage-shop-selling-indigenous-halloween-costumes-told-1.3810968, 2016

[2] Weaver, Caity. “How To Choose a Halloween Costume That Isn’t Racist”. GQ. gq.com/story/how-to-choose-non-racist-halloween-costume, 2016

[3] Tognotti, Chris. “19 Sexist & Racist Halloween Costumes You Should Stay The Hell Away From”. Bustle. bustle.com/articles/188057-19-sexist-racist-halloween-costumes-you-should-stay-the-hell-away-from, 2016

[4] Park, Patricia. “The Madame Butterfly Effect: Tracing The History Of A Fetish”. Bitchmedia. bitchmedia.org/article/the-madame-butterfly-effect-asian-fetish-history-pop-culture, 2014

[5] Black, Liz. “The Caitlyn Jenner Halloween Costume Gets Another (Even More Offensive) Accessory”. Refinery29. refinery29.com/2015/08/92887/caitlyn-jenner-halloween-costume#.t1y2op:r8Gn, 2015.