I’ve compiled the data on yesterday’s vote about all 16 costumes presented by Insider as being offensive. For each costume, I’ve given the name, the percentages of “no” (not offensive) and “yes” (offensive) answers, and the total sample of respondents. We clearly have a group not prone to offense, but that’s no surprise. Also, I’m sure we have more than 15% women who read this site (and probably responded), though I don’t know how many members of minority groups we have. (I’m going to remedy this soon with another poll.) If we have very few members of the groups that are most likely to be offended, that would explain the fact that for every costume—save Anne Frank—a large majority of readers found it inoffensive. If you want to explain your votes on specific costumes below, and didn’t in the last post, I invite you to chime in.
This has been a useful exercise for me, at least—helping me think about why I found some costumes more offensive than others (only two, really), but, more important, how do we determine whether a). a costume is offensive (and presumably you’d have to poll those whom the costume conjures up, and get a large majority rather than just one offended Arab or Native American); b). whether, if it’s offensive, you shouldn’t wear it; and c.) should you call out such costumes when you see them? I’m still thinking about these issues, but clearly polling people here tells us only whether the readers of this site find something offensive, rather than whether people whose cultures are represented by those costumes find something offensive. And surely the opinions of the latter group is more important.
For those costumes that were found offensive by 10% or more of readers, I’ll add my own gloss below:
N = 492
I was surprised by this one, as the Mexican “stereotype” didn’t seem to be making fun of Mexicans so much (the sombrero is the Mexican equivalent of a cowboy hat, and if it’s denigrating, then every member of a mariachi band is denigrating Mexican culture. But of course members of a culture traditionally have a lot more leeway to use “offensive” terms, or wear certain costumes, than do “outsiders” (the use of the word “nigger” is a classic example). I suspect, but don’t know, that women dislike “sexy” costumes more than do men, and that played a role in this costume.
N = 488
Many Native Americans might find this offensive, particularly because of its “spiritual” connotations, and I suspect readers, guessing that, gave it a 16% offense rating.
Men’s Arab Sheik Costume
Yes: 13.0 %
N = 476
I was surprised that the “yes” vote was higher here, for (as Greg observed) the costume is accurate, and doesn’t seem to be making fun of anyone. One person noted that when he wore Arab dress one day a year on a national holiday in an Arab country, everyone liked it. Likewise, when I wear Indian clothes in India, people like it.
Golden Geisha Costume
N = 473
N = 466
I found this offensive, but most readers didn’t. Why do I feel this way? I’m not quite sure, except that I thought it was the equivalent of “blackface”: the fake dreadlocks and hat seemed to me to mock Jamaicans.
Anne Frank/World War II Costume
N = 492
This was the most “offensive” costume, and it’s clear why: it uses dress-up and fun by appropriating a terrible story of a girl killed in Auschwitz. It’s in bad taste. I wouldn’t wear it, but I wouldn’t tell other people not to, for what I consider offensive is not something I’ll enforce on others, or call them out about.
Dia De Los Beauty Costume
N = 467
Inflatable Ballerina Costume
N = 464
My guess is that this was pretty offensive to some because of fat-shaming: it makes fun of people being overweight, and overweight people are already somewhat ostracized.
Drooper Costume (Older Hooters Girl)
N = 456
My guess is that more women found this offensive than men, for it mocks an inevitable result of aging in women, as well as objectifying the sex by using the “Hooters girl” trope. (I have to say that I’ve never been to a Hooters and wouldn’t want to go.)
Reality Star in the Making Costume (Kylie Jenner)
N = 449
Upside Down Honey Costume
N = 434
Sexy Convict Costume
N = 449
Restrained Convict Costume
N = 448
Hobo Nightmare Costume
N = 442
N = 441
Snake Charmer Costume
N = 401
I’ll add here one comment that reader Alex SL made, on the earlier post, in which he wanted to start a discussion. Feel free to respond to this comment.
Posted November 1, 2017 at 4:12 pm
I think at some point I would like to have a discussion about how the kind of harmless fun that is involved in a costume is ‘harmful’ to a group of people, or why something is called cultural appropriation if it does not involve actual harm or loss to anybody whatsoever. (The original idea was taking over somebody’s IP without re-compensating them for its use because they are powerless to make a case for their interests, and that makes sense; but who in Japan loses one dollar if an American wears a kimono?)
It seems as if this works as follows:
1. You have a costume with a sombrero.
3. HARMFUL TO MEXICANS!
To say it with science, this theory does not seem to come with a plausible mechanism of action.
Then again, I was made uncomfortable by the Anne Frank label, and I cannot really demonstrate any harm or loss there either, so maybe it works the same way for other people in the other cases.