Halloween is one of my favorite days of the year. To many, it’s a day where people are given liberties to don masks and be people that they aren’t in real life. This can range from the empowering President of the United States, the sexy cowgirl, the funny Where’s Waldo, the historical Cleopatra, or the classic pirate. Unfortunately, Halloween also has a tradition of not so funny and deeply disturbing racism.
This year, I saw costumes of a Boston Bombing victim, racist Asiana pilots, George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, Julianne Hough in blackface, and of course, the annual racist imagery of stereotypical Native Americans, Sikhs, geishas, Mexicans, and black gang members. This isn’t a new trend; in the 1950s, dressing as mammies, buck-toothed Asians, and in blackface was common. Same story, different year.
Every year we hear rationales for these costume choices--whether it be authenticity, a joke, or, perhaps even more depressing, an attempt at representing people of color in popular culture. Birmingham University took a step to ban racist Halloween costumes. One student was turned away from a party for dressing up as Sasha Baron Cohen’s character from the movie The Dictator. He was upset, and gave the argument that the character didn’t represent any country in particular and it was from a movie. I see this common rationale still prevalent in current society. It’s a comment on pop culture; so, what’s the big deal?
An even bigger question is: Why are the only representations of POC in pop culture degrading ones?
Why do we never see Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Frida Kahlo, former Philippine president Corazon Aquino, Aziz Ansari or Mindy Kaling? Why isn’t positive representation seen as fun, interesting, or even a valid option, while appropriating another’s culture in degrading ways still gets attention, even though it’s nothing new? It’s just the same old costume from the 1950s...
Can we please just move on?
Photo Credit: Ohio State University Poster Campaign