Tips for an Inclusive Halloween

I love Halloween — always have. As a kid, I trick-or-treated in my neighborhood, bobbed apples at parties, and dressed as everything from a pumpkin to a black cat to Tinkerbell. Thanks to a mostly middle-class upbringing, Halloween was very accessible to me. However, I think it’s irresponsible to assume that just because October 31st was fun for me means it’s just as great for everyone else. That’s why this year, I’m offering this guide for a more inclusive Halloween.

1)Select costumes conscientiously:

In order to understand why some costumes are offensive, you must familiarize yourself with cultural appropriation. Essentially, cultural appropriation is the act of taking things (often for aesthetic or performative purposes) from a culture other than your own without demonstrating understanding or respect for said culture. Dressing up as a Native American or a geisha is unacceptable not only because it co-opts a culture as a costume, but because it reduces it to a single stereotype. Culturally-appropriative costumes fail to appreciate historical and cultural significance and are essentially an exercise in privilege. Frankly, there are so many options for costumes (including creatures both real and imaginary, professions, historical figures, and characters from books, TV, and movies) that don’t rely on racist tropes that there’s really no excuse for it.

2)Use Halloween costuming as an opportunity to empower children:

Website A Mighty Girl offers an annual Girl Empowerment Halloween Costume Guide, with recommendations sorted by age (babies to adult) and theme (superheroes, fantasy, occupations, etc.). I love this idea and submitted a photo of my daughter as a chef for their post-holiday round-up. However, I think it’s important that when it comes to crossing the gender line, we be equally supportive of a boy who wants to be Princess Elsa as a girl who wants to be Captain America.

3)Stock up on non-candy options:

For kids with food allergies and intolerances, trick-or-treating can be challenging (and when those allergies are life-threatening, downright sinister). This year, consider purchasing some non-food items (glow bracelets, bubbles, stickers, temporary tattoos, etc.) and place a teal-colored pumpkin on your porch to let parents know you have them. The Teal Pumpkin Project, sponsored by the Food Allergy and Research Foundation, began in 2014 and has increased awareness about kids with food allergies and intolerances. A little effort on your part can make sure that food allergies aren’t the reason Halloween is the scariest day of the year.

4)Don’t police trick-or-treaters:

When you answer the doorbell, just keep in mind that there’s always more than meets the eye. A child who doesn’t say “Trick or Treat” might be nonverbal. A sensory processing disorder may be the reason a child is in street clothes instead of a costume. Be understanding. Above all, make your neighborhood a welcoming place for all. A community in Pennsylvania is using special bags to cut down on “outsider” trick-or-treating this year. Because nothing says “inclusive” like demanding ID from little kids. If you only want to give candy out to certain children, might I suggest having a private party and turning out your porch light?

5)Remember that not all families celebrate:

This is especially important in schools. In the last few days, a Massachusetts school has been under fire for banning Halloween celebrations this year. This is nothing new. Schools have been canceling Halloween parties and parades since the ‘90s. Honestly, as public institutions, they’re not wrong. For many families, their faith systems do not include celebrating Halloween (or any holiday, for some). For low-income families, the cost of Halloween can be prohibitive. I don’t see this as a politically correct move. It’s about being more inclusive, and kids who do celebrate have any number of options, including events sponsored by the parks and recreation department, local businesses, and places of worship, that they’re not missing out on anything if there’s nothing going on at school. And even schools that don’t allow Halloween parties often have alternatives like an after-school fall festival.  

When in doubt this Halloween, err on the side of respect and safety. And remember: Any time a community can make a beloved tradition more accessible for all its children, it should.