CosPlay vs. Racial Profiling (a fine line)

We’re at T-minus-14 for Halloween weekend 2015.  Every year about this time, I overhear snippets of conversation regarding costumes and upcoming parties, as I imagine many teachers do.  What is difficult, I think, is a way to identify the line that distinguishes appropriate from offensive costumes.  Personally, with two children who attend anime conferences, multiple Doctor Who fans among students and family members, former students who belong to medieval fighting guilds (complete with foam and duct-tape swords) and a Pinky Pie wannabe in my own household, I struggle.

The “We’re a Culture, not a Costume” meme that has gone around for several years is back on Facebook, and this year, I want to use it with students to talk about the boundary line, and how #everyonematters.  Here are three things that I want to include in the conversation.

  1. Intent vs. Ignorance.  There are many reasons that students dress up for a holiday, including emulating a hero figure or looking to imitate a popular news figure or event.  The challenge is to create a discussion opportunity about how the costume correlates to a sense of fun, if it is in good taste or forwards the conversation.
  2. Individuals vs. Culture.  This is also a way to approach the discussion. I love to ask students how non-Americans see the USA, and show them a picture of an individual with a weapon, sweatpants, and a tubby belly headed to McDonald’s or Walmart.  It is seldom that such a stereotype is seen in a favorable light by students, and well, that’s the entire point.  Somehow, things that are funny about others in the abstract become less favorable when directed personally at students as an inaccurate representation of themselves.
  3. Imagination vs. Reality.  By shifting the costuming to the realm of literary fiction, animations or fan-fiction, costuming can take on a new dimension. Encouraging your students to express themselves by dressing as a character who is brave, courageous, weird, or even obnoxious allows them to try and act out new emotions in a safe way that will allow them some freedom of expression.

What else would you add to the discussion that helps us determine that line?

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