During Spirit Week, students played games during lunch and dressed up each day during the run up to Homecoming. Photo by Harper Pambrun
Students dressed as T-Rex made a good choice to wear costumes that didn’t offend anyone. Photo by Davenport Latner
Halloween is known as happy and exciting time of the year. Many people dress up in costumes, throw parties, or go trick-or-treating to celebrate the holiday. However, Halloween is also riddled with people wearing offensive, often racist costumes. This begs the question: How does a person tell if a costume is appropriate?
It should be obvious to everyone that something like wearing blackface, in any context, is inexcusable. Specifically, blackface is vehemently racist because it connects to the dark history of a form of entertainment where white people mocked African-Americans on stage in the 19th century. For this reason, wearing blackface on Halloween orany occasion is inexcusable.
Similarly racist is the “bandito” stereotype of Latinos, but specifically of Mexican-Americans. This is the infamous costume where one dresses up in a sombrero, a serape, and a handlebar moustache. Its historical origin is that of demonizing Mexican revolutionaries, specifically Pancho Villa. Pancho Villa was a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution, which overthrew a Western-backed dictator in 1911. White people dressing up as this stereotype is disturbingly common, and sometimes these offensive costumes also feature brownface make-up, which is wrong for all the same reasons as blackface make-up.
On Halloween this year, one AHS student dressed up as a fully uniformed Nazi at school, another disgusting costume as it trivializes Nazi attrocities. One would think that the first rule of choosing an appropriate costume would be to first consider if the costume is just flat-out repulsive to others. Why wear something that will possibly hurt someone else?
Besides racist costumes and those that trivialize historical horrors, some costumes are not so obviously inappropriate. These costumes often fall into the category of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when a person from a dominant culture “steals” aspects of an oppressed culture without permission or invitation. A prime example of this would be white people wearing Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead face paint on Halloween. In many countries, Día de Muertos is a meaningful tradition of life, death, and honoring family members. That holiday is incomparable to the completely commercialized holiday that is Halloween, and, accordingly, it should not be trivialized by those who do not belong to the culture that originated the tradition. People should not take something sacred and important out of its context, trivialize it, and strip it of all its meaning for a Halloween costume. That should be Rule Number 2.
One might argue that Halloween is also a cultural tradition. This, to an extent, is true. However, Halloween has been stripped of all its spiritual significance, even though it originated with the sacred Celtic festival of Samhain. Traditions we now consider a core of Halloween, like trick-or-treating, only came into widespread practice in the 1930s, which were soon capitalized for profit.
Detractors from the argument for appropriate Halloween costumes might ask, “Is it not cultural appropriation when non-Americans celebrate Halloween or dress up like mainstream American in jeans and t-shirts?” The answer is no, because members of an oppressed culture do not appropriate the dominant culture. Instead, oppressed cultures sadly are forced to assimilate into the dominant culture. For example, imagine if a Native American child wore clothes traditional to their culture to a majority non-indigenous school every day, imagine the harassment and discrimination that child would face, which is why oppressed cultures often assimilate into the dominant culture. The same principle applies to Halloween costumes.
Another hot topic this Halloween was parents allowing their young, white children to dress as the Disney character Moana. Clearly, no child dressed up as Moana out of a desire to mock Polynesian culture. Most of these children likely dressed up out of admiration and love for a strong, independent-minded, and female Disney character of color. This, in theory, is a positive development. However, Moana-themed Halloween costumes have resulted in a fair share of controversy. Disney recently pulled a Maui skinsuit off of store shelves after criticisms that the brown skin sleeves and Polynesian tattoos were a form of “brownface” that misrepresented Maui, who is an important demigod in Polynesian mythology. AHS student Noelani Rae Chang shared what she thought of the controversy. "The little kids who want to dress up as Mulan and Maui look up to those characters. The only thing that's weird to me is when they add the sleeves to make it look like you're the same skin color. It's mostly weird when they try to change their skin color for the costume by adding sleeves and stuff like that."Again, because of the dark history tied to it, do not darken your skin to have fun for one night. Don't dress up as something someone else can't take off. Try dressing up as the character and not their race. If the entire character in question is a stereotype, just avoid that character.”
Finally, people shouldn’t fetishize entire ethnicities by dressing up as "sexy Pocahontas" or as a "sexy Geisha girl.” Specifically using the Geisha costume as an example, it perpetuates the sexist and racist stereotypes of dehumanized East Asian women being servile or submissive as sexual objects.That should be Appropriate Costumes Rule Number 3.
All these inappropriate costumes reinforce the power dynamic in our society between the dominant and the oppressed. They are simply hurtful. Why dress up as something that causes pain to another human being? Why not just choose one of thousands of appropriate costumes? It is not true that “everything will offend someone.” No one will be offended if people wear something like a skeleton costume. People can still be creative and celebrate the holiday without being offensive.