Halloween is fast approaching. First of all, I'd like to lament that Jordan and I have no plans this year. Very depressing. Last year was such a great time (see photo at the bottom of this post) and we loved our costume - we'll have to cook up something great for next year. Halloween is the best.
Halloween also seems like a time when people get pretty sloppy with their costume choices and accidentally (or sometimes intentionally) end up being racist, classist, or sexist.
Last year in my hometown of Decatur, Alabama, a big Halloween costume scandal exploded because a teacher, dressed up as Kanye West, painted his face with dark makeup. This got a lot of conversations started about where to draw the line.
So here are a few that may/will rub people the wrong way.
This one is kind of two-fold offensive. First, it perpetuates a stereotype of Japanese women that many modern women find outdated and difficult to overcome. Geisha are associated with high-end prostitution in many circles. Secondly, there are actually still women who are geisha, and the training process is brutal and intense. Either way, just a good one to avoid.
2. Anything in blackface.
I know this one seems obvious, but every year, it crops back up. As anyone who has ever been to school knows, blackface is one of the many ways that the Black community has been persecuted by White folks. For the Black community and its allies, this costume harkens back to a time when white people used similar makeup to mock, denigrate, and dehumanize. Looking at that costume, for so many, represents years of oppression and hurt.
I know. I know. Can't believe this exists. Me either. But it does, because people love to get a laugh/to be sensational/outlandish. The truth is, this is a time in American culture when Muslims are being widely discriminated against as either members of ISIS or dangerous refugees. Imagine being a Muslim American (or a Muslim anywhere else, frankly) and seeing your culture, a culture with rich history apart from those two tropes, represented this way. Yikes.
4. White trash.
Not cool to make fun of teenage pregnancies; not cool to make fun of people living below the poverty line; not cool.
5. Native American/"Indian."
This costume is problematic for the same reason that calling a team the "Redskins" is: because it paints a cartoonish and "savage" picture of Native culture. To add insult to injury, the people who usually wear this costume are White, which is terribly ironic when you consider that White people drove Native people out of their homes and off their land. Woof.
Listen - here's the thing.
If you've worn one of these costumes before, it doesn't make you a bad person. I was a geisha when I was in middle school. I didn't know better, and you probably didn't either.
The bottom line is that using someone's race or culture as a costume is inherently offensive. By dressing up as a "gypsy" or a "ninja," we're using elements of someone's actual heritage and turning those few details into a character we get to play for a few drunken hours. Worse, it's not even a character - it's a caricature.
It's easy to say that people need to grow a thicker skin, take a joke, and see these costumes for what they are: silly, inoffensive, and playful. But if I, a White person, tell a person of color to just "get over" the fact that I've used their culture as a costume, that's crossing a line that just isn't mine to cross.
One of the biggest lessons I learned while I was a corps member for Teach for America is the concept of intent vs. impact. For example:
I don't intend to roll over in my sleep and elbow my husband in the face 4 out of 7 nights a week. But it still happens. And it probably still hurts.
Even if I don't intend to offend anyone with my costume, it doesn't mean it's not offensive.
For me at least, it's helpful to consider: "If I was wearing this costume out tonight and ran into (insert person of a particular race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation/etc.), would I feel uncomfortable or awkward?"
There are plenty of benign costumes out there, peeps. There are also plenty of ways you can dress up as someone of another race and not be offensive. Observe!
Of course, Chris Pratt and his velociraptor are always a safe bet.
Happy Halloween, y'all! Make it fun, keep it clean, and be mindful!