October is underway, meaning the Florida air is still hot and Halloween is approaching. Characteristic of this holiday season is candy, ghouls, pumpkins and, of course, Halloween costumes. As the 31st approaches, I ask anyone reading this to self-reflect and be mindful of how others might receive their costumes or party plans.
“Like most issues involving race in our country, avoiding offense at Halloween requires thinking not just about stereotypes or discrimination but also about white supremacy,” Osamudia James said in her 2017 Washington Post article. “Can a white child dress as a Halloween character from another race?”
According to James, being mindful of one’s Halloween costume not only requires assessment of the culturally entrenched notion of white supremacy, but also consideration of what it means to be White.
During my visits to two Halloween store locations in Sarasota, I saw wigs for afros and dreadlocks, a blank black mask, “fortune teller” costumes that mimicked traditional Romani apparel, a “cozy” voodoo doll costume, a Native American costume complete with a headpiece and braids and costumes relating to the Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos. Nearly all of these neatly wrapped costumes featured White models on the packages.
According to a 2011 Psychology Today article, White people in the U.S. are living in an era where not seeing color is acceptable and sometimes even encouraged.
“Color blindness has helped make race into a taboo topic that polite people cannot openly discuss,” author Monnica T. Williams said.
The phenomena of “colorblindness” further complicates the subject of appropriation because those who opt to not be conscientious of racial differences could view another race or culture as an acceptable costume, and then turn a blind eye to criticism surrounding its racist implications.
“By distorting the features and culture of African Americans—including their looks, language, dance, deportment and character—white Americans were able to codify whiteness across class and geopolitical lines as its antithesis,” the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) said in “Blackface the Birth of an American Stereotype.”
The idea of race no longer being of significance also gives White trick-or-treaters and partygoers the sense that it may be appropriate to repurpose Blackface, along with other offensive tropes, as interest in other cultures or even as a means of showing respect.
Appropriation of Native American and Latinx cultures for Halloween costumes also remains a polarizing issue in the United States. In 2016 Disney pulled Maui (from the movie Moana) zip-up suits off the racks. In instances like these, the infringement upon freedom of expression is often cited by those defending the choice to dress up in appropriative and offensive costumes, even if this expression comes at the cost of the mental and emotional well-being of others who are also trying to enjoy their Halloween.
For those who are also celebrating Día de los Muertos on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2., Latina Culture Writer for Hellogiggles Gabriella Herstik implored non-Latinx readers to be considerate. Herstik explained that she can see the appeal of the holiday to outsiders in her 2017 article “How to not be offensive this Día de los Muertos,” but suggested that non-Mexicans who wish to celebrate should do so mindfully. She appealed to readers to patronize Mexican and Latinx businesses and festivals, not to paint their face as the sugar skull for Halloween and to do their own research on the holiday.
The request for people not to appropriate other races and cultures in their costumes is not an attack on one’s self expression so much as a call for people to be considerate of others, to do their research and to be mindful. Appreciation of and mindful engagement with the history and practices other cultures is not a bad thing, but the utilization of someone’s identity to obtain a certain aesthetic for Halloween is not acceptable.
“I think that the argument has absolutely become politicized,” Susan Scafidi, author of Who Owns Culture: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, said to USA Today, “but it doesn’t need to be. We can all learn to be polite and respectful without being political. And, in fact, I think most people want to be.”
Information for this article was gathered from washingtonpost.com, talkdeath.com, wearyourvoicemag.com, nmaahc.si.edu, wikipedia.org, tolerance.org, hellogiggles.com, usatoday.com, psychologytoday.com and huffingtonpost.com.