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EDITORIAL: Our cultures are not your costumes

Racist, insensitive Halloween outfits should not be tolerated in CMU community


SGA Diversity Committee volunteer, left, and Detroit sophomore Terrance Allen stand outside of the University Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 as a part of the “culture is not a costume” campaign put on by SGA. The SGA diversity committee and volunteers protested racially offensive costumes with the slogan “culture is not a costume.”

As Halloween approaches, so begins the flurry of preparations to celebrate America’s spookiest holiday. That includes the search for an epic costume.

Halloween is an occasion when students, faculty and staff can be something they are not. On one night, they can be superheroes, celebrities, athletes or politicians. Dressing up can be fun, silly, sexy, or even empowering.

Donning culturally dress or skin tone of any minority group, no matter how subdued or exaggerated, does not and should not fall under the category of lighthearted entertainment.

Simply put: wearing costumes that mock or emulate another race, their associated stereotypes or cultural dress is wrong.

We ask that each member of the CMU community be aware of what they wear this weekend. We call on students to avoid cultural costumes altogether while attending parties on and off campus throughout the weekend.

We do not believe that our university community is made up of racists and xenophobes. Quite the contrary — members of our student body strive to create a more inclusive environment for people of color and different genders identities.

It is apparent that most of these costume gaffes are often unintentional. Therein lies the problem.

Some students on campus may not understand why these costumes are problematic. The issue is not a matter of gross racism as much as it is a lack of awareness of what is and what is not a disrespectful costume.

That’s why a number of student and faculty groups at CMU work each year to dissuade other students from cultural costumes. The campaign is called “My Culture Is Not a Costume,” and it is promoted by CMU’s Student Government Association in association with the Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.

On Wednesday, a group of student volunteers handed out fliers around campus detailing what costumes are considered insensitive. We support their efforts to raise awareness on poorly conceived racist costumes.

We hope that students reflect on the message of the campaign. We hope that students are willing to grapple with these concepts. We also call for an end to the creation and sale of costumes that mock the beauty of diversity.

Bigotry isn’t funny. It is not clever or creative. Taking a stance against these kinds of behaviors isn’t about political correctness, nor is it a matter of oversensitivity. You may read this editorial and think we’re making the issue larger than it is; that we should look away and accept crude jokes and costumes as elements of free speech.

We wont. Neither should you. We should all confront racism as it occurs and promptly work to put those behaviors on blast because they are wrong.

On any other day, students, faculty and staff should know that not all Mexicans wear ponchos, or guzzle tequila by the bottleful. Everyone on campus should know that modern Native Americans — a group that represents vital partners in the CMU and Mount Pleasant community — do not dress like the racist depictions maintained by popular culture.

We must not use Halloween as an excuse to throw out common decency.

Confronting racism on campus is a group effort. Let’s not forget our hard work toward creating a more inclusive campus community by allowing indifference to flourish on a beloved holiday like Halloween.