I have had my fair share of wake-up calls when it comes to racial relations in the United States. But there’s nothing that screams “red flag” as much as Halloween.
Of course, there are the self-crafted, makeshift costumes I see every year: a “Native American,” a “black guy,” a “Russian.” There are problems with the stereotypical minority characters portrayed in the media — historically inaccurate representations of Pocahontas are nothing out of the ordinary to me — but what alarms me more are the people that use nations, even skin color, to warrant a costume in itself.
Even more concerning are the manufactured costumes: Companies were actually given the green light to create these offensive outfits. The Root, an online news source devoted to providing African-American perspectives, came out with a top-10 list in 2010 of unbelievably insensitive costumes, one of which includes “Chop Suey Specs”: glasses with slitted eyes that allow the trick-or-treater to look Asian.
“Fool your friends with this Oriental disguise,” the costume advertises. The words sit next to a confused-looking man, whom I could only assume to be Asian, in a business suit scratching his head. That was 2010, right? The costume is still selling today at the low price of $2.99 on Coolcostume.com. Who knew racism would sell for so cheap?
There was the “Ghetto Fab Wig,” which is just a wig with very curly hair — clearly a mark of the ghetto. Kohl’s pulled the costume in 2010 after someone pointed out how idiotic it was to make it in the first place.
Then there’s the “illegal alien,” which is an alien mask attached to a thick, black mustache and a baseball cap. Immigrants called for the costume’s ban in 2009, reported CNN, but clearly that didn’t work; Amazon.com and Costumecraze.com still sell the mask. Sure, the “alien” part is a pun. But nothing reminds foreigners of how “different” people acknowledge them to be until there are manufactured alien costumes dedicated to making fun of them.
Halloween is one of my favorite days of the year because, as a psychology major and someone personally interested in the inner psyche, I love the thought of being someone or something else for a day. Halloween is all about identity. But minority identities should never be stereotyped. No one should pretend to be any other race, because changing your skin color, your clothes, or even your eye shape just isn’t going to cut it.
On a day dedicated to being different, some choose race. When it comes to race, there is always going to be an implicit feeling of “us” versus “them.” Simplifying an identity to one feature further solidifies this impression that race is one-dimensional.
I use the term “race” over “ethnicity” because I believe there is more to an identity than something simply defined by family background, nation, or skin color. Race is shaped through culture, and culture is more complicated than what can be seen on the outside or what can be officiated through citizenship. Race is multidimensional and more complex than a costume could ever show.
When claiming “black face” is intended for accuracy to the character you portray, rethink your costume. When claiming the tribal outfit you wear honors Native American heroes rather than oppresses them, realize that’s not up to you to decide. And when claiming your minority friends are cool with it, remember that it only takes one hurt person to make someone a bully.
Let’s hope that this year there will be fewer masks of ignorance out there.
Reach Development Editor Hayat Norimine
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