Please Do Not Dress Up for Halloween in Blackface, Brownface, or Yellowface; Don’t Be Stupid | Sojourners

Please Do Not Dress Up for Halloween in Blackface, Brownface, or Yellowface; Don’t Be Stupid

Photo campaign from Ohio University's Students Teaching Against Racism (STARS)
Photo campaign from Ohio University's Students Teaching Against Racism (STARS)

Americans love Halloween. In fact, maybe it’s fair to say we go crazy about Halloween. How crazy?

Americans spend $310 million dollars per year on costumes … for our pets. Wow.

In total, Americans spend between $6.5 – $6.86 billion dollars on all things Halloween: costumes, candy, and decoration. More wowzers.

So, as the average consumers spends about $27 on costumes, I thought it’s never too early to encourage folks to be careful how they dress up for Halloween … even if it’s “all in the spirit of fun.”

Listen, I like fun. And while my social life is nearly zilch, I like fun parties, but it’s all fun and games until someone shows up at a costume party or … err … at your front door trick-or-treating in a borderline racist costume.

Yes, it’s not too early to tell people:

Please don’t dress up in a blackface, yellowface, brownface, or any other costumers that stereotype, denigrate, or mock another culture.

Don’t caricature another real culture. Why? Because we’re a culture and not a costume.

I don’t care if you don’t intend it to be racist. It might not be but it’s certainly racial and generally hurtful. I say generally because every single person that chooses to defend their costumer respond by saying:

“I have a ______ friend and he/she is not offended at all. They love it.”

Listen: Even if one of your friends of color says he or she is not offended does not mean it’s OK because it’s not.

You see, folks usually respond with defensive words or they choose to place the blame on the “other” person. The usual responses are classic examples of power:

  • “Why do you have to be a party pooper?”
  • You’re taking the subject too seriously. Relax. It’s a costume party!”
  • You need to get some thicker skin.”
  • “This is your issue … your problem.”

You might not be racist but you’d be stupid in dressing up to caricature another culture.

Don’t be stupid.

If you’re dressing as a geisha, a Native Indian, or in blackface, brownface, or yellowface, don’t knock on my doors in Seattle. I will not be giving you any candy. From

Despite the fact that blackface has been offensive since it originated in minstrel shows in the 19th century, some misguided Americans continue covering their face with paint or shoe polish to mimic African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians every year, particularly at Halloween. It’s b

een nearly a century since D.W. Griffith promoted white supremacy and blackface characters in his film The Birth of a Nation. Can we finally give up on blackface in 2011?

Now, let me make the connection with this and the Christian community.

Cultural sensitivity is a must for the larger culture but it’s especially important in the Church. It’s especially hurtful when this lack of sensitivity is present in the Church because it only makes sense that the Church ought to be safe place – for people from all cultures and customs. During an earlier post I shared about Pete Hoekstra (Senate candidate) and cultural sensitivity, I made this point:

Cultural intelligence is not merely gaining intellectual knowledge about another culture. Just because you like samurai/ninja culture and have seen Kung Fu movies does not mean that you possess cultural intelligence. Instead, a leader with a high cultural IQ has developed a sensitivity to other cultures and handles those cultural contexts with honor and respect.

Without cultural intelligence, a leader runs the risk of caricaturing other cultures, as in the church’s example above. You cannot appropriately represent a culture that you have not taken the time to know or understand. And when you attempt to do so, you not only dishonor those who are a part of the culture you are diminishing, but you also dishonor the One who has created every tongue, tribe, and nation to begin with.

None of us can claim perfect understanding of the wonderful diversity that exists both around the globe and even within our own country. But Christians are called to be ministers of reconciliation, and Christian leaders are the ones who need to step forward in the hard work of developing cultural intelligence.

Black faces are wrong. Brown faces and yellow faces, too. They’re wrong every day including on Halloween and they’re especially hurtful in the Church.

So, find a good costume and if you want, you can dress like me. I won’t be offended.


Eugene Cho, a second-generation Korean-American, is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and the executive director of Q Cafe, an innovative nonprofit neighborhood café and music venue. You can stalk him at hisblogTwitter or his Facebook Page. Eugene and his wife are also the founders of a movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty. This blog post originally appeared on Eugene Cho’s blog. Follow Eugene on Twitter @EugeneCho and on Facebook.