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Halloween: Horror, Racism, and Appropriation


I didn’t think this was the sort of thing I’d still have a reason to write about in 2015, but here we are. Another Halloween, another parade of white people who think blackface is OK. That may be one of the worst choices out there, but there are plenty of ways be an insensitive jerk on Halloween without painting your face black or brown.

Note: almost all the links in this post have photos that may be upsetting and/or NSFW.

For kids, Halloween is an opportunity to dress up as their favorite characters: superheroes, wizards, ninja turtles, angry birds, other adjectived animals. It’s all in good fun, and kids come home with bags of candy, and what kid doesn’t love that?

Some adults, on the other hand, see it as an opportunity to be as offensive as possible. Whether putting their kids in costumes designed to incite anger or donning the offending duds themselves, there are some who seem to be motivated only by a desire to insult and enrage others.

2013 gave us the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin duo, complete with blackface. Last year, at least one couple went as domestic abuser Ray Rice and his wife, Janay. Naturally, that one had blackface, too. There must be a point during the design of these costumes that the people putting them together think, “I’ve already made something pretty nasty here, might as well push it as far as I can.” There have been folks dressed up as mass shooters (and their victims), convicted pedophiles (and their victims). It is probably safe to say that any person who has ever achieved notoriety by doing terrible things has had someone cook up a Halloween costume in their “honor.” This year, Caitlyn Jenner costumes apparently “in” (and selling extremely well) because nothing says “happy Halloween” like stomping all over trans people. I remember when she first came out, and some people thought that there was no real need for this sort of thing anymore. Aren’t trans people accepted now? Not if such crude mockery is still considered harmless fun, no.

You’ve also got the standby stereotypes: Mexicans, Native Americans, various costumes meant to portray people from “exotic” cultures, because people unfamiliar to us are only worthwhile as knee-slapping novelties. It’s often children you see wearing these, and while they may not understand why those costumes are a bad idea, they _do_ absorb the message that representing other peoples and cultures in such a way is acceptable. (Granted, there are people who put their kids in such costumes precisely to stir the pot; they surely don’t care what awful messages they are sending their children.)

It’s not impossible to wear a topical Halloween costume while staying within decent bounds. Just remember to punch up, not down. Pick on figures who need to be taken down a notch, not those society already denigrates. Defy stereotypes, don’t embrace them. And for crying out loud, don’t change your skin tone as part of a costume. Don’t make it bronze, or yellow, or brown, or black. Face paint for other purposes is fine, but if you’re doing it to look like you’re of another race/ethnicity, stop now. It’s not funny, it’s not “ironic,” it’s not “satire,” it’s just being a jerk.

Further, don’t make your kids complicit in your “edgy” Halloween humor. Let the kids wear what they want, for the most part, unless they’re trying to go for a racial stereotype or a Caitlyn Jenner or something. (In such a case, it might be wise to ask where they even got such an idea.) And, of course, there’s no reason to steer them to gender-specific costumes. Sometimes I wonder if the same kinds of people who think it’s OK to put on blackface and dress up as Ray Rice would balk at their son wanting to be a ballerina, or their daughter wanting to trick-or-treat as Superman.

With Halloween being, well, tomorrow, it might be difficult to find a new costume in time. But I have a suggestion: Donald Trump. Throw on a ridiculous wig, a suit, put on some blush, and call everyone “losers.” Especially the ones in blackface.

Photo by iluvcocacola