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Dress With Respect: What It Is and Why It Matters

Every year the AHANA Leadership Council (ALC) hosts the annual Dress With Respect campaign to encourage students on campus to pledge to dress with respect. But what exactly does that mean? Every year there is inevitably the select group of people who choose to use Halloween as an opportunity to belittle other people’s cultures or experiences as opposed to just doing something fun. This includes using blackface, wearing costumes based on traditional dress, or anything else that involves using someone else’s culture as a costume. The Dress with Respect campaign and others like it are designed to remind us to think carefully about how we choose to depict others and what effect it may have on them.

One example of the described offensive behavior is dressing up as an “Indian” or Native-American. Although these costumes are very common, they can be extremely hurtful and irritating to people who are actually members of the Native-American community. All of the beads and patterns that are used for Native-American dress have a symbolism and a meaning that someone who is not of that culture does not fully understand. Using Native-Americans’ culture as a costume antiquates them as if there aren’t Native-American communities that are fighting to preserve their culture today. One would hope that BC students would know to avoid costumes that could be taken as offensive or racist, but knowing the difference between a creative costume and a disrespectful one isn’t always obvious.

Another example is using blackface in any context to impersonate a black person. Just don’t do it. The use of blackface dates back to the 19th century when blacks weren’t allowed to act on stage and where thereby depicted by whites with black makeup on. The highly exaggerated representations of blacks in movies, minstrel shows, vaudeville, and even Broadway shows were ridiculously offensive and stereotyped. The use of blackface continues to be strongly looked down upon today because of the history that it recalls.

This Halloween, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of offensive costumes that I saw on campus. However, my friends had negative experiences that deeply upset them. Everyone should be allowed to feel safe and comfortable on campus whether it’s on Halloween or any other time of year.  So did your costume pass the test? If you dressed with respect this weekend, submit your costumes to the Dress with Respect Facebook page for a chance to win a gift card to the BC bookstore!

 

Sources:

http://black-face.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ALCDresswithRespect/?fref=ts

http://www.powwows.com/wp-content/uploads/i-am-not-a-costume.jpg

 

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