October 17, 2008
Halloween: A Free Pass to be Racist?
Here we go again... Halloween.
I actually like Halloween. I love getting dressed up. I love getting the kids dressed up. I love seeing how creative people can be (I once showed up in a long nightgown with a sign that said, "Freud." -- get it? I was a Freudian Slip.). I still laugh at the couple costumes that are Peanut Butter and Jelly. And, yes, the recycled Justin Timberlake costume of "**** in a Box" cracks me up.
But, I also cringe when Halloween comes around. Does Halloween, with it's intentional 24 hours of dressing in a way you normally wouldn't, give you a free pass to be racist?
While perusing the daily newspaper fliers to find something creative to make for my kids, my husband and me, I was hit by the number of racist costumes. Here are some of my personal "favorites" that were all within 2 pages of one another:
The Geisha Girl
Chinese Delivery Man (but with a big rice hat)
the Jamaican Dreadlock hat
The Sumo Suit (for both kids and adults, thank God)
The Ancient Chinese Secret costume (wig with top bald part and long black braid)
I'm not the only one thinking about it. Here is a great post from Racialicious that was originally posted at Angry Asian Man about "Asian Hair for Halloween."
So, does Halloween give us a free pass to dress in ways that might insult another culture?
The argument some present is that dressing in these costumes aren't offensive, rather they are honoring the traditions of that culture (... you know where *I* stand on that!). Yet, is there a difference? For example, one Halloween, a young 5-year old white girl came to my door dressed as a Geisha. I wasn't sure what to say, so I simply said, "Oh! What a pretty dress!" Her mother then responded with, "Thanks! We lived in Japan for 4 years and were excited when Sally could finally wear the dress!" Hmm... I wanted her statement to change my feelings, but I still felt like there was something wrong there. Should I have felt better that they got the dress in Japan, that her family had lived in Japan for years, and that, it seemed, they were filled with great excitement for this moment? If the mother had said, "Thanks! We got it at Target," would I have felt differently? I don't know... But, something still didn't feel right.
The conversation with adults has also come around with the Sumo suit costume. Seems at every college I work at, there is always some sort of Sumo Suit wrestling thing going on at Orientations or Fun Weekends. I hate the Sumo Suit. I hate that people (regardless of race) "dress up" as a large individual and then just pound into each other. What tops it off for me is when their helmets are shaped like buns. Yes, buns.
Is this offensive? I find it to be. I know that the sport of Sumo is highly respected. It's cultural. It isn't just about a couple of fat guys belly bumpin' one another out of a ring. There is an art. There is a meaning. There is great respect around the sport. Sorry, but watching a bunch of drunk college students belly bump each other with "Take that!! Hiiii--yaaaa!!!" doesn't seem respectful nor sacred to me..... WHY do we still rent these things???
The issue of Costumes also irked me when watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics this year. The American commentators kept saying how beautiful the individual COSTUMES were of "exotic" countries. Newsflash, American commentators - they aren't wearing COSTUMES. They are wearing CLOTHES.
Oh, Halloween. A free pass to be racist or a day of cultural respect? Hmmm....
Posted by Liza