Department of Rhetoric and Writing

The University of Texas at Austin

(White) Men Behaving Badly, or, Why I'll Be Staying Home This Halloween


Image Credit: Google Image Search

These are truly tough times for white males in America.

Every Halloween, I have trouble coming up with a creative, relevant costume. What I have found over the years, however, is that- along with my severely limited creative capacities- my costume options are greatly curtailed by my gender and race (I'm a white guy).


Granted, I am fully aware that the number of costumes falling within the realm of that which is acceptable is diminishing for everybody, not just folks in the aforementioned demographic. Now that old standbys like a mental patient with straight jacket and messy hair, a hobo with stick and bindle, or a “'fat' anything” are no longer socially acceptable for anybody, we all need to treat goofy costumes as serious business.

Time was, Halloween was simply an excuse for guys to dress like girls and for girls to dress like sluts. That is, women have always been able to fall back on the “sexy [anything at all]” as a totally passable costume. (Aside: I really do mean anything at all; - you can be a sexy ear of corn, for God's sake!)

As for us guys and our storied tradition of falling back on cross-dressing for Halloween, it goes without saying that “sexy [anything at all]” really doesn't work for us, aesthetically speaking (as this article illustrates quite well).  This is nothing new. What is a more recent development is that, in our increasingly “enlightened” culture, any man who's dressing as a woman for Halloween is treading on shaky ground in terms of rubbing someone the wrong way.  If I put on a less-than-flattering flattering ladies' pantsuit and go as Sen. Clinton, I might be construed as a sexist, rather than as the unwavering Hil-Dog fan that I am.  So, the ol' cross-dressing option is out.

So what are some other options?  Well, I'm not big on dressing like superheros, and I don't watch enough “E!” to know what clothes I would need to don in order to look like anyone of Hollywood fame.  With all of these factors in mind, I thought I'd go as a politician or other public figure who had shamed themselves in the spotlight over the past year.  Since any such public figure I might choose would be one that had "brought it upon themselves" by doing some legally or ethically dubious, nobody could really misconstrue my intent to satirize someone who deserves it! 

Easy, right?

Not if you're a white dude.

As for the individuals among the group that fall within the category of shamed public figures, I need to make damn sure that the person I'd be satirizing is the same color as me, otherwise I'd be perceived as racist.  Generally, I am OK with risking irking the easily offended with a costume of questionable propriety, but one need not be a dedicated fighter for racial equality to be offended by a white guy dressed in blackface; I think any culturally literate person would be able to see why that would be inappropriate (myself included).  So, that limits the white dude even further in his costume options.

Now, at first blush, this all might not seem limiting at all.  God knows there's no shortage of white guys breaking the law or otherwise inviting public disdain.  But here's the problem:

They all look exactly the same.

Whether I want to be an overzealous neighborhood watchman, a racist basketball team owner, or any other sort of white guy making headlines for screwing up, the costume is the same: a dark, traditional suit, almost invariably coupled with a “power tie.” 

I put it to you, good reader: What could possibly make for a more boring and unidentifible Halloween costume?  ("Is he supposed to be George Zimmerman?  Maybe Rick Perry?  I don't know.")

Come on, white guys!  Can't we mix it up a little?!  I realize that wearing a balaclava and carrying a sack with a dollar sign on it might be asking too much, but how about getting arrested at home in your Fruit of the Looms for disturbing the piece, or getting pinched with an 8-ball whilst out on the town in some flamboyant nightclub garb?  Hell, even a cardigan and an overdue library book would be a welcomed bit of variety!  Jeez!

Where does all of this leave me?  I don't want to be an anonymous white guy in a suit for Halloween.  Dressing up in costume is just not as much fun when it entails wearing clothes strikingly similar to those that you wear every other day of the year.  I also don't want to offend anybody, so I need to steer clear of anything with race- or gender-based implications.  Nor do I have the time/money/creative energy required to put together some prize-worthy costume that would make me the belle of the ball.  And I sure as hell don't want to go as a goddamn Ninja Turtle.  So, it would appear as though Jim will be settling into a Hulu marathon this Halloween.

Oh well. At least that means there will be one less white dude in a suit out on the town getting himself in trouble.