Tom Slater

The bizarre war on sombreros

The bizarre war on sombreros
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Many Brits still bristle at the importation of Halloween. It’s easy to see why. It is an American holiday that involves grown adults dressing up and children begging for food from strangers. But there is one upside to it that we can all enjoy: woke campus officials losing their minds over ‘offensive’ costumes.

It’s hilarious, and it is now an annual feature of Halloween – as traditional as carving the pumpkin or egging the neighbourhood sex offender’s house.

Today we learn in the Times that officials at Sheffield University banned students from wearing sombreros this Halloween, because doing so is ‘culturally insensitive’. Posters have been put up around campus and, according to reports, security staff will ‘challenge any culturally insensitive costumes’ they come across.

This ridiculous story has a rich, transatlantic tradition.

A few years back, Wesleyan University’s office of student affairs put out a poster that read, ‘Is your costume offensive? Check yourself and your friends.’ In 2016, a residence hall rector at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana cautioned female students in an email to think twice before dressing up as Disney characters Moana, Aladdin, Pocahontas and Mulan. Apparently doing so could ‘reinforce stereotypes’.

In Britain, things have been just as mental. Pembroke College, Cambridge once cancelled a planned ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ themed party, for fear people would show up in ‘racist’ costumes. And for a long time Edinburgh University Students’ Association maintained a strict costume policy, banning students from dressing up as, among other things, Pocahontas, gangsters, Jimmy Savile and Caitlyn Jenner.

This isn’t just the work of a few students, either. Last week, the National Union of Students actually issued guidance on appropriate costumes. ‘This Halloween we want everyone to check and double-check their costume to avoid the exploitation and degradation of others’, it said. ‘Don’t let racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism be the real horror this Halloween!’ A lecturer at Yale resigned in 2015 after a backlash to an email she sent, suggesting everyone should just chill out about fancy dress.

The humble sombrero has been among the most common targets of the costume cops. In 2016, Bowdoin College in Maine allegedly offered counselling to students ‘injured and affected’ by a group of classmates who wore small sombrero hats to a tequila-themed birthday party. Birmingham University's Guild of Students banned sombreros way back in 2013. And more recently, students at the University of East Anglia banned sombreros that were being handed out on campus as a promotion by a local Tex-Mex restaurant.

The strange war on sombreros is premised on the idea that to don the garb of another culture is to engage in a sly form of racist mockery, to reduce ethnic-minorities to an outfit. But if anyone is being racist here it is the student officials who seem to think that Mexican students will be mortally offended by a white person wearing a hat; who seem to believe that Mexicans treat sombreros with almost religious reverence.

Indeed, according to the Times report, Mexican students at Sheffield are not happy about this ban at all. ‘As a Mexican I can legit say f*** this s***’, wrote Alex Garcia on Facebook. Another student agreed, commenting: ‘Same. We actually love seeing people with them [sombreros].’

Students leaders today, who more often than not are from well-off white backgrounds, think of themselves as anti-racist. But in truth, many of them have an almost neocolonial mindset. They think it is their job to look after minorities, who they see as so pathetic, they might be scared of a Halloween costume, like children.

Written byTom Slater

Tom Slater is deputy editor of Spiked

Topics in this articleSociety