America is a great country because we have freedom of speech, of expression, of art—we can say whatever we want without the government cramping our style. However, the freedom to express yourself comes with great responsibility. If you can say whatever you want then people can say whatever they want back. So yes, while it is your right to don blackface this Halloween do not get upset or confused when people are like, “WTF are you doing, Sir/Madam?” You live in a mostly free country but you also live in a world with a history, context and oppression. Now, why do you have to think about that on Halloween? You are citizen of the world, what you do affects others around you and being racist/classist/insensitive is only funny to other people who are racist/classist/insensitive. But I know it can be confusing . . .
What if I am light skinned and want to be Beyonce, Rihanna, Olivia Pope, Michelle Obama (an actual character with brown skin) this Halloween?
The answer is still no on the blackface thing, but I understand why you asked. Especially since actors who play Obama on Saturday Night Live wear blackface to do so, which is very much politically incorrect. It may seem like your look isn’t complete because that one thing is missing but you know, we still get it. If you notice when Black women dress up as Wonder Woman or Little Red Riding Hood, they don’t wear whiteface, yet anyone can recognize who they are.
Over the weekend, celebrity dancer, Julianne Hough wore blackface to emulate the character Crazy Eyes from Orange Is The New Black. First of all, everyone would have known who Julianne was because a) she is a part of a group costume making her character extra identifiable. b) Crazy Eyes is more recognizable for her crazy eyes and tinybun hairdo. If Julianne Hough spent more time darkening her hair than her skin the costume would have been better.
What about recent cultural tragedies, are those up for grabs?
I’m sorry you asked. I’m sorry our education system has failed to the extent you really don’t understand why cultural sensitivity is important. Take the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman costume pictured above. How in the blue hell did these people think this was funny. A real boy was murdered over real racism, just a few months ago. The case was so controversial, so rooted in America’s sordid past, that it sparked a national conversation about how racism has very real consequences. Someone decided it would be fun to completely trivialize that. Do you know that Trayvon has family and friends who are still mourning his loss? When they go to read the news they’ll see this costume and see another reminder of how this country has failed Trayvon and cost him his life. It isn’t OK to wear blackface but it also isn’t OK to trivialize cultural tragedies. Do not show up as JonBennet Ramsay, Casey Anthony or the Dark Knight shooter or the Sandy Hook shooter . . . just don’t.
Is it OK to go as a terrorist though?
A few years ago Chris Brown decided to dress up as a terrorist. I think we all know we shouldn’t be taking our leads from Chris Brown but it can be confusing as to why this particular costume is insensitive. First off, the entire implication of this costume is that all terrorist are Middle Eastern which is flat out incorrect, terrorism is a form of political violence that just about every country has partaken in at one point or another—already, you’re promoting a cultural stereotype.
On top of that terrorism is a standing international problem. People die everyday literally, today and if you are reading this weeks from when it was published then still, people are dying just about every minute due to terrorism how is that funny? Our country recently experienced terrorism during the Boston Bombings (would you show up dressed like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?) and 9/11—why is that funny? You’re not making a political statement or a satirical one, you are just dressed as a terrorist and reminding citizens: people who have lost loved ones, people who have fought in wars to prevent it, people who have directly experienced the effects of terrorism, of the tragedy of mass murder.
But can I go as a different race, culture or religion?
Nope. A person’s identity is not a costume. A few days ago an Australian woman was slammed for having an “Africa” themed party where guests wore blackface, “tribal” clothing and dressed like KKK members. First of all, the KKK has little to do with Africa since it’s an American organization so—sigh, we know blackface is wrong but hello, Africa is a continent not a country, there isn’t one inherent culture to Africa. That’s the problem with treating someone’s culture as a costume, you end up reducing it to a stereotype like the Penn State sorority that had a “Mexican” theme party a few months ago.
“Will mow lawn for weed and beer,” reads one of the signs. Yes, because all Mexicans wear sombreros, have mustaches and mow grass. Sigh. And for the ones who do you are completely undermining there entire existentence by suggesting their actual appearance is comparable to a fantastical costume like a mermaid, ghost or zombie. The issue here is that you’re highlighting people’s differences and suggesting that they are abnormal enough to warrant a costume of those parts. It’s like if someone came to work dressed as you for Halloween wearing a really big nose, you’d suddenly wonder if you had a really big nose and if that was bad and a distinct point of differentiation of you from others. The ramifications are way worse when those distinctions are cultural and being made mocked by the masses.
Remember, it’s not a costume if it’s a real person’s lifestyle.
But can I go as a historical figure known for killing people?
No, genocide and anti-semitism aren’t funny when there is still genocide and anti-semitism in the world. So don’t be Joseph Stalin or a KKK member or Sadam Hussein or any person whose actions are still being felt whether that person was alive 100 years ago or 10 or is living.
But can I go as a pedophile?
Sexual violence isn’t funny. You’re not making a political statement, you’re just reminding people, who are statistically great in numbers, of the sexual violence they have experienced in their lives. 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted and there are 3.6 million reports of child abuse in the United States annually. You are reminding people of their horrid childhoods and experiences for the sake of shock value and a joke, stop it.
Halloween is about pun-ny costumes and fantastical creatures, stick to those and you’ll go far, kiddo.