Some Halloween costumes offend the senses. Some are just plain offensive. Here's a handy guide to 12 racially charged Halloween costumes, whether you can get away with wearing them, and what to do if you accidentally bought a racist one.
Do not wear this costume. First, no matter what the makers of this costume tell you, "squaw" is not a acceptable term. Second, when the entirety of your costume is "I am a person of a different race, LOL," that qualifies as a racist costume. If you accidentally bought this costume, chuck it. Possible exception: You are going in a large group that includes Peter Pan, Wendy, and Tinkerbell. Then you're a specific person, Tiger Lily! Just make sure you do not lose sight of the group, and be aware that seducing a men dressed as cowboys will be misconstrued. [Yandy via TBD, Yandy]
On one hand, they're not called "Eskimo" anymore, but "Inuit." On the other, this costume is so far removed from its source material that it's hard to draw a straight line between it and the mockery of native northern peoples. The main problem with this costume is that it's nonsensical. Only wear it if you plan on doing a ton of blow. [Yandy]
Geishas are a cohesive enough cultural phenomenon, and if you were to actually dress like a geisha—with multiple layers of floor-length kimono and little white toe socks—that is fine. But are you really going to dress like a geisha, or are you going to dress like a teenage victim of sexual trafficking giving happy endings in some crummy massage parlor in San Jose? You can probably get away with this kind of "geisha," too, but I urge you to resist. If you want to be a whore for Halloween, just be a whore, and skip the creepy racial overtones. Possible exception: This "Japanese Entertainer Costume" is almost—but not entirely—self-aware. [Yandy]
Whereas geishas occupy a grey area (Oscar-winning movies have that effect), mishmash pan-Asian "doll" costumes get a resounding "nay." Ditto "Asian Costume," "Sexy Asian Girl," and this "Chinese Take Out Costume." (That last one is just begging for gross jokes about "eating out.") Do not wear these costumes. Possible exception: You are an Asian female who likes to spend Halloween confronting fetishistic creeps and making them uncomfortable. Proceed with caution, though, because that joke can backfire. [Yandy]
Vikings don't exist anymore, so it's fine to dress up like them. Bigotry is acceptable when it's about ancient peoples of yore. We know it's OK to dress up like Vikings because, whereas people are always up in arms about sports teams with Native American mascots, nobody cares at all about the Minnesota Vikings' mascot, unless it's for the purpose of a Brett Favre joke. Which reminds me: If you dress up like a Viking, be prepared to be accosted by a bunch of exposed-penis Favres all night. [Yandy, Yandy]
Do you really want to be in a harem, a female plaything of Middle Eastern polygamy? As long as the harem pant trend is going strong, I guess we should address this: Do not dress as a "harem girl," especially if your costume requires some inappropriately sexualized approximation of hijab. You may, however, dress as the main character from I Dream of Jeannie. She was just a pan-Orientalist white girl, anyway. The "Playboy Harem Girl Costume," meanwhile, is unintentionally funny. You can wear that if you're doing some kind of cheeky take on The Girls Next Door. Bigamy on TV: So hot right now.
The buxom beer-swilling bar maid is pervasive. Though Germans occasionally protest it, they've got a lot worse to deal with these days (see next costume) so I'm going to give in on the "St. Pauly Girl," the "Heidi Ho," and the "Sexy Oktoberfest." You are free to wear this costume and get beer and pretzels tossed down your cleavage all night, if that's your bliss. [Yandy, Yandy]
Do not dress up like a Nazi. This costume is especially ill-advised if you are the prince of England, a Republican nominee for Congress, or a reality star who just broke the heart of America's sweetheart. If you already bought your Nazi costume, go to hell. OK, fine, you could also tell everyone you're not a Nazi, but Prince Harry dressed up as a Nazi. But if you run into anyone dressed up as the Bear Jew, look out.
French isn't a race, but it is a nationality, so is this costume offensive? No, it is not, just embarrassingly unoriginal, and maybe a little gross in a "I know way too much about my random acquaintances' sexual fantasies, now" sort of way. This costume is damaging only to your personal dignity. [Yandy, Yandy]
Another costume that isn't offensive so much as it is stupid. Togas are easy to make and easily identifiable—why would you waste your money on a bland white dress like this? Anyway, the Greek-American faction must have decided, at some point, to just leave the toga stuff alone and let oversexed college kids run amok with "Greek life," so this is fine, if pointless. [Yandy]
Bed Intruder Costume
Even without funny costumes, the Antoine Dodson phenomenon has been likened to minstrelsy, so this is dangerous territory. Will the inevitable onslaught of Bed Intruder Halloween costumes veer dangerously towards blackface? Now, it is certainly possible to pay tribute to an eccentric internet character without being racist, but the coming cavalcade of frat boys hollering "Hide yo wife!" is making me cringe already, so let's just make a collective choice to use our Bed Intruder costumes on dogs only, because animals dressed like humans are always cute, but humans dressed like other humans is such a mess. [BedIntruder]