B efore you head out to Halloween on Franklin Street this year, think twice about what you are wearing and ask yourself a few questions:
Have you appointed yourself the comic representative of a culture, ethnicity or race that has been historically oppressed and exploited?
Do you belong to that group of people?
Would you wear your costume around that group of people?
What is your aim in wearing that costume? Regardless of the answer, innocent intentions do not give you a carte blanche.
Putting on a sombrero and poncho, a Native American headdress or blackface perpetuates stereotypes and reinforces damaging racist attitudes.
People have to live with the discrimination and injustice associated with your “costume.” They can’t take it off.
Take a quick second to think about the immense privilege you have in donning blackface or borrowing someone’s race for a day — of making a costume out of the physical and cultural characteristics that determine people’s life outcomes. The color of Michael Brown’s skin had a lot to do with his killing in broad daylight in Ferguson, Missouri this past summer.
Today, you can surf the web and buy an “Indian Chief” costume, complete with a headdress, vial of paint for tribal markings — all with free shipping to boot. This commodification of attire into costumes not only painfully idealizes Native American society, but profits off of a people who have been the subjects of genocide and erasure since the year 1492. It constructs their identities as homogenous and frozen in time.
Cultural appropriation and historical misrepresentation are by no means confined to Halloween.
Washington, DC’s football team is somehow still called the “Redskins,” as Dan Snyder, the team’s owner, seems to believe racial justice comes secondary to petty tradition.
And last year, the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon threw a “Vietnam Cocktail” party, where students reportedly wore Vietnamese straw hats and Viet Cong flags, among other garments.
White people are not the only ones who can be complicit in racism. Don’t get me wrong — racism is a system of oppression that is consequence of white supremacy. And white supremacy does not refer merely to the Ku Klux Klan, white hoods and burning of crosses.
It refers to the normalization of whiteness, which designates everyone else as foreign or exotic — perfect costume material.
You do not have to think, “I am intentionally discriminating based on race” to be complicit in racism. We do not live in a post-racial society, as a matter of fact.
This Halloween, don’t roll your eyes or smugly say “It’s just a joke,” or, “Don’t be so sensitive.” Yes, it is a night where you can be anything you want to be. But hopefully, that won’t be someone who believes their fun is worth more than other’s pain.