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3 Rules for Wearing a Halloween Costume to Work

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With Halloween just around the corner, many organizations host office gatherings, costume contests, and opportunities to take your kids for trick or treating. This may be the first time your company has celebrated the holiday in person since the start of the pandemic, and you may feel pressured to get creative with your costume. But remember: Unfortunately, some costumes may be perceived by your colleagues as insensitive or offensive, or even racist, misogynistic or highly inappropriate.

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Here are three things to keep in mind to make sure everyone can get involved and enjoy Halloween:

Do not glorify those who have caused harm

Halloween costumes are not an opportunity to glorify those who have harmed others. The popular Netflix series Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story revolves around the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. He targeted and killed mostly black Asian Latino men. The series sparked renewed interest in Dahmer, which was reflected in the sales of Dahmer Halloween costumes. Some online retailers, including eBay, have now stopped selling these suits.

Even if they are currently trending on Twitter or are notorious figures, dressing up as one of these individuals can be incredibly hurtful to colleagues: Osama bin Laden, Vladimir Putin, Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Epstein, or others who have caused pain. Finally, don’t use inspiration from mass shootings, Covid-19, natural disasters, or movements like #MeToo to come up with “creative” or “funny” costumes. This again has the potential to hurt and harm your colleagues.

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Don’t Embrace Cultural Appropriation

Halloween costumes are also not an opportunity to appropriate someone else’s culture. Dressing up as a member of a culture that is not yours in a costume that is “funny” or exaggerated is insulting and hurtful. This could include dressing up as a geisha or Native American or in an Arabian sheikh costume, a grass skirt with a coconut top or a poncho with a sombrero. Do not use certain symbols or items of clothing that have significant meaning to people from historically marginalized groups. It’s not a costume for them; it is part of their community, culture and daily way of life.

Finally, blackface is highly inappropriate, hurtful and racist. black face is a racist practice dating back to the minstrel shows in the 1820s. White performers pretended to be black, darkened their skin, pretended to have oversized lips, and wore wigs and exaggerated costumes. They ridiculed and mocked black people, often portrayed as ignorant or lazy. Once you understand this history, you now know that it is never appropriate to wear blackface for a Halloween costume.

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Discuss intent versus impact

If someone shows up to work wearing an inappropriate Halloween costume, don’t wait for human resources to intervene. Be the person acting on behalf of your team. Pull the person aside and talk to them about intent versus impact. Here’s an example of what you might say:

“I wanted to share that some of our colleagues have been hurt by what you’re wearing. I’m sure you didn’t mean to, and I wanted to tell you why this costume is so shocking to them.”

Or you can say:

“I’m sure you wanted to be creative when you chose this costume. Unfortunately for some of our colleagues, this costume isn’t funny. It’s very painful for them, and here’s why.”

Encourage your co-worker to apologize to those they have harmed. Ask your coworker to share what they learned and why they now understand that the costume was harmful. Apologies are essential to restore trust between colleagues.

Remember that Halloween can also be a great opportunity to bond with coworkers. And if you’re in doubt about your costume choice, don’t be afraid to ask someone else’s opinion. To be on the safe side, dress up as a piece of fruit, or as a Halloween classic like a pumpkin or a witch. More important than the costume is the ability to connect and make sure everyone feels involved and can fully enjoy the festivities.

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