Halloween is my favorite holiday to be honest. I love dressing up, I love haunted houses and scary movies even though they both scare the shit out of me, I love Halloween games, I love pumpkins and classic Halloween kids movies, and I love just about everything about October 31st.
One thing that I do actively hate about Halloween though is culturally appropriative, racist, and problematic costumes. A small part is because I think people can be so much more creative but mostly because appropriative and problematic costumes are rude and play into dangerous stereotypes. Playing the part of another group, of another identity is horrible because you’re ripping away a part of a culture that does not belong to you, as Theresa Avila describes for the style section of Mic.
It’s important to not only acknowledge that this is a problem but also actively work against it through many actions. One would be to realize if your own costume is racist or problematic in anyway and then not dress in it. And there are more costumes that are problematic but not directly related to race (although those ones are often the easiest to spot!). There are others related to ableism, eating disorders (why would you dress like this?!?!?), and related issues.
Realization is just step one of addressing this problem – another step is to see that it totally doesn’t matter your intent in wearing a problematic outfit. And that’s the thing about microaggressions like this – it does not matter what you mean because this is not about you. It’s about how your actions impact other people. It does not matter that you like the costume or what have you. What matters is how your actions of dressing up as another culture or identity can impact marginalized communities.
But if you are curious why this is important to not make jokes about marginalized and oppressed communities and identities, here are some reasons:
- Women with mental illness are less likely to be believed when filing reports of sexual assault
- Making light of mental illness by dressing in straight jacket costumes or similar makes light of the issues faced by people with actual mental illness. And it downplays the significance of mental illness (as if those struggling with one or more are just faking it).
- You get to take off the costume at the end of the day. You get to leave the experience behind and go back to your privileged position. Not everyone has that luxury – these experiences that people adopt through dressing up in costumes are other peoples’ lives.
- When you dress in a sexy and totally racist outfit, you contribute to the culture of fetishizing and eroticizing other people.
- And this is a problem for many reasons, like the fact that Native American women are significantly more likely to experience rape or sexual assault.
- Cultural appropriation is harmful for so many reasons, some reasons Maisha Z. Johnson highlights. (She also pointed out that cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural exchange nor is it the same as marginalized communities assimilating to the privileged part of society (which is done out of survival or force!).
Kat Lazo wrote is perfectly saying that:
By wearing cultures that aren’t yours as a costume, you are subjecting those very people to the threats associated with those stereotypes and belittling their experiences.
And all of this isn’t even touching the issues around blackface and all the recent instances of white people throwing blackface related parties. (Seriously if you think we live in a post racial society, just know that there are white people who still do blackface.)
To sum up an already pretty long post, there are so many other costumes that you could be wearing that are problematic or racist or ableist or anything like that. You could be Buzz Lightyear! Or a piece of bacon! Or Ms Frizzle! Or a dog! To be honest, you could be a literal pile of trash and that would be signficantly better than some really problematic outfit. And there are many many ways in which to dress up as some characters that are people of color (if you’re white) without having to dawn on blackface or the equivalent.