A Culture, Not a Costume: Remember to Avoid Blackface This Halloween

A new awareness campaign out of Ohio University seeks to eliminate the racism that often taints Halloween.

You may remember the above photo from the now infamous "gangsta" party held by students at Clemson University in 2007. Some of the party's female attendees stuffed their pants to give themselves exaggerated butts and, as you can see in this picture, at least one man in attendance went in blackface (though that's probably more accurately called "black body"). Inevitably, pictures went viral via Facebook, and civil rights groups quickly condemned the party, much to the surprise of the students who organized it—they claimed they had no idea it would be offensive.

Halloween is just around the corner, and next weekend is bound to be glutted with costume parties of all kinds, not to mention costume ideas of all kinds. Ryan Gosling's character from Drive might be a tempting getup. If you're a woman, maybe you'd like to go as Hillary Clinton. But whatever you do, do not go in blackface (or brownface, or yellowface, etc.).

Despite the fact that blackface has been offensive since it originated in minstrel shows in the 19th century, some misguided Americans continue covering their face with paint or shoe polish to mimic African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians every year, particularly at Halloween. It's been nearly a century since D.W. Griffith promoted white supremacy and blackface characters in his film The Birth of a Nation. Can we finally give up on blackface in 2011?

A new poster campaign from Ohio University student organization Students Teaching Against Racism (STARS) hopes to kill racial stereotype costumes this year. Centered around the slogan "We're a culture, not a costume," the group's message is simple: When it comes to depicting Latinos as donkey-riding drunks in sombreros, or blacks as thugs with mouths full of gold teeth, "This is not who I am, and this is not okay."

Only time will tell if STARS' awareness campaign has a major impact, but at the very least it should serve as an impetus to start your own personal awareness campaign: This Halloween, friends don't let friends leave the house in blackface.

PLUS: GOOD's guide to figuring out whether your Halloween costume will offend.

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