Cynthia M. Allen: Political correctness can get pretty scary

Cynthia Allen

I have never been a huge fan of Halloween.

There already are plenty of things in everyday life I find terrifying — this election cycle included.

I never understood the need to celebrate a day that imagines more things for us to fear.

But I've never had a problem with those who embrace the holiday.

Indeed, for adults, Halloween has always been the one opportunity each year when it's acceptable to pretend to be something we're not; to wear something scary, inappropriate or ridiculous in public with impunity; or to dress our children in something funny or cute.


Still, every year there is some outcry over the irreverence of costume choices.

And every year the complaints become a little more absurd.

The latest outrage is over a costume depicting Maui, a Polynesian character in an upcoming Disney animated film.

Maui is a revered figure for some Pacific Islanders, and many believe him to be their ancestor.

Presumably, the Disney film (scheduled to be released next month) handles Maui in a culturally respectful way.

As such, one might assume that donning the costume is homage to the Polynesian culture — or at least a fun way to enjoy a new Disney character.

Apparently not.

Quite predictably, a social media storm erupted over the Maui getup.


One activist explained that it is off-putting to have a child wear the skin of another race.


But the Maui costume is hardly blackface, especially when worn by a child who probably just wants to emulate the character — and in a good way.

Disney pulled the costume from the shelves after claims that it was offensive to Pacific Islanders became too many to ignore, which is no surprise considering what generally happens to people who rationally suggest that costumes, on both children and adults, might be a worthy form of self-expression.

That was part of the argument made last fall by Erika Christakis, an educator and wife of a Yale University administrator, in response to heavy-handed university advice about Halloween-wear.

In an email to students, Christakis wondered, "Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious … a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?"

She further argued that the school's costume guidelines exhibited a lack of faith in students' ability to exercise their own judgment of what is and isn't appropriate and how to reasonably approach situations in which they might find a peer's choice of dress offensive.

"In other words," her email concluded, "Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people?"


It would appear that it is the business of a very vocal minority of social justice warriors.

As a result of the furor caused by Christakis' email — including a heated and profanity-laced confrontation in the quad — she resigned her position as a lecturer at the school, and her husband resigned his administrative role.

The political correctness police are not active only on Ivy League campuses.

This year, a Florida State University dormitory displayed posters that showed "examples of appropriation" and included suggestions for "great Halloween costumes" including "extraterrestrial alien," "Steve Jobs" and "any animal" — except Harambe, the gorilla killed this year in an effort to protect a small child who fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Harambe, the poster said, for reasons of sexism and racism that still boggle the mind, was an inappropriate choice.

The posters were part of the "We're a Culture, Not a Costume" campaign that has been sweeping campuses.

While it might to be fair to question the judgment of some college students given the appalling amount of binge drinking and promiscuous sex that occurs on campus, a national campaign designed to steer their Halloween dress choices seems just a tad condescending.

But perhaps even more insulting is the service offered by another Florida school to students who find themselves traumatized by the costumes of their peers.


The University of Florida is advertising that it has made available an around-the-clock hotline through which offended coeds can seek counseling services to help them deal with their costume-caused anguish.

The culture appropriation concerns extend beyond the campus bubble.

Several theme parks, including Six Flags New England, have altered or removed Halloween attractions that featured scary psychiatric patients because they offended people who suffer from mental illness.

And as one writer explained in the Huffington Post, the use of any cultural garb at all — a kimono, sari or mariachi suit — should be off-limits. These "are deeply respected items of clothing in their culture" and wearing them isn't appreciation but appropriation.

Forget ghouls, ghosts and zombies.

The thing to fear this Halloween isn't offending someone, but the whittling away at your right to self-expression.

Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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