Fall is in the air.
Leaves are changing color, children are making hand turkeys, and girls in leggings and Uggs are consuming pumpkin spice lattes faster than you can say “autumnal equinox.”
But of all these staples of the season, there is one that stands out among the rest: Halloween.
The one day of the year where you can dress up like Darth Vader and not be regarded as “that weird kid,” Halloween is an important part of every college student’s fall semester. However, the rampantly racist costumes involved sure do put a damper on the festivities.
A Trayvon Martin costume even made an appearance last year.
So how bad is the racist Halloween costume problem, you ask? It’s so bad that, last year, one school had to formally request that the student body not wear anything racist on the Samhain holiday. That’s something you’d expect in the 1960s – not the 21st century.
“Who cares?” you’re thinking. “It’s just a joke for one night, chill,” you say.
What counts as one night of fun for you is based on centuries of stigma and oppression for others. People didn’t die protesting for civil rights for a bunch of slammed college students to dress up in “blackface” and pretend to be shot by the police.
At best, these costumes are insulting. At worst, they are a reflection of how we view certain marginalized groups within this country. When you dress up as that “Chinaman,” you are basically saying “the struggles and hardships your people have gone through is a joke to me.” That’s just not funny.
So, how can you tell if your costume is racist? It should be pretty obvious, but here’s a few check points in case it’s still unclear:
- Is the costume tied to one particular race/culture/ethnicity? Would the costume be unrecognizable if taken out of that particular context?
- Does the costume rely on preconceived stereotypes for it to have its intended effect?
- Would you feel uncomfortable wearing that costume on an ordinary day around its targeted group of people?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then, sorry to say, but your costume is probably racist. Even unintended racism is still racism. This applies to trademarked characters as well.
As a child I probably watched “Pocahontas” a billion times, at least. But now that I’m older, it has become clear that “Pocahontas” is about as racist as movies get. Can I still like the movie? Sure. But when the U.S. Department of Justice has found that Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than the average American woman, it becomes clear that we seriously need to restructure the way we’ve been brought up to view Native Americans.
“Pocahontas” and her accompanying “mystical Indian” stereotype is a constructed fantasy that leads to very real violence. To pretend otherwise by dressing up as the character is just disgusting.
For the past few years, Ohio University has done a pretty cool poster campaign against the use of racist Halloween costumes on college campuses. The campaign works to highlight how the stigma felt by one night’s costume can last for a lifetime.
Halloween is about having fun. No one should have to worry about whether or not they’ll have their identity trampled on.
So go out this Halloween, have fun, maybe visit a party and eat more candy than you know you should – but please, leave the sombrero at home.
Rosie Brown is a sophomore prospective journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.