Dressing up as Wonder Woman, a pirate or a minion is in this year, but dressing as a terrorist or an “urban ghetto dweller” is out — at least, according to one Canadian school board. Two weeks ago, the French-language school board Conseil scolaire Viamonde sent out an email to parents urging them to think about whether their child’s Halloween costume might hurt or offend other students.
The email asks parents not to choose costumes that represent racist stereotypes (“suicide bomber” or “ghetto-dweller”), mocks transgender people, or are rooted in “tragic or violent historical moments” (“slave” or “cowboys and Indians”).
The board’s aim in sending out these guidelines was to help parents avoid costumes that might make other students “feel upset, insulted or humiliated.” Claire Francouer, the board’s spokeswoman, notes that the email was meant as a helpful hint to parents rather than an outright ban.
Conseil scolaire Viamonde isn’t the first school in the region to send out such guidelines. Other school organizations, like the Toronto District School Board and the University of Toronto, have already issued costume advice. This move comes after students at Ontario’s Queen’s University hosted a party for peers to dress up in racist costumes like Viet Cong fighters and Mexican prisoners.
The school’s guidelines come at a time when many are debating the ethics of wearing costumes that hurt or offend others. Thinkers like Robby Soave “wonder what’s left” when students aren’t permitted to wear such costumes and see moves like banning offensive costumes as “a symptom of the sickly state of free expression.” But according to Francouer, the parental response has been “very positive.”
On CBC Radio’s Here and Now, Francouer said that many parents were simply unaware of the impact their children’s costumes might have: “They say, ‘It never occurred to me that this could be offensive but thank you for taking the time to help me think about that.’”
For Francoeur, the move is ultimately about empathy and “showing kindness” to people who may be hurt by the costumes. She hopes that the guidelines can “start a conversation” with children and parents about how their choices can affect others, and how they can make the school more welcoming for others.
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