This article is also available in print: Quaker Campus, Volume 19 – Issue 5, dated Oct. 28, 2021, on the Whittier College campus.
With Halloween fast approaching, that also means the arrival of pop-up Halloween stores. The over-saturation of women’s sexy costumes, fake nails and eyelashes, and the overwhelming scent of cheap plastic filled the air as I made my way through the shelves of the Discount Halloween store in the Quad. It was especially exciting considering that October of 2020 proved to be lackluster for so many others. As I perused the shelves of costumes, looking at everything they had to offer, I was confronted with the reality that we must see every year: an extremely inaccurate ‘Indian’ costume, with titles such as ‘native princess’ or ‘savage’ slapped across the sticker. Not too far off was a cute (and I mean that sarcastically) little depiction of some older white guy in a serape, sporting a large sombrero and waving maracas in the air. I sighed, and begrudgingly turned away — I wasn’t in the mood to deal with the culturally insensitive costumes that were always present.
They seem to follow me wherever I go — a serape-patterned poncho and an ethnically ambiguous man on the cover, sporting a comically fake mustache, or a geisha costume where the model’s face is painted white, with her kimono hiked up to her thighs. For children, it’s portrayed as a little more innocent, with little girls dressing up as Natives, or the company attempting to commodify characters in their new shows in movies. The hottest debate of 2016 was whether or not it was appropriate for children to wear a costume of Maui, one of the main protagonists from the film Moana. Heavily influenced by Polynesian culture, Maui is a character that sports traditional Samoan tattoos, ones that hold significant cultural meaning. The artists of the film collaborated with Samoan tattoo artists in order to ensure cultural accuracy; to simply slap it on an outfit and sell it as a gaudy costume reads as incredibly disrespectful to the artists who put hard work into it.
Existing as a person of color throughout these holidays has always been interesting. Growing up, I could recognize the inaccuracies in the costumes of my own culture, and how uncomfortable it was to be around. I wasn’t exposed to the more blatantly racist costumes until I was old enough to use the Internet (by my parent’s approval), and was appalled. It seems like it should be pretty basic knowledge how to not be a piece of shit one night a year, but, with thinkpieces being written about what is appropriate for children, or preparing yourself to think long and hard about your costume and whether or not it is offensive, it is evidently much more complicated than I had realized. Considering that it still surprises people that blackface is racist, it isn’t such a leap to say that most people aren’t explicitly aware that caricatures of different cultures — largely people of color — are still considered offensive. The U.S. has a long, complicated history of dressing up as marginalized people in order to mimic or mock them. Whether it was the minstrel shows of the 1920s, or old films that mimicked and mocked marginalized folks (see: Broken Blossoms), it is evident that the country has not risen above mocking other cultures. We see it in our media, our peers, and especially in our political figures.
Halloween is meant to be a fun holiday for everyone involved — that includes the people who are consistently mocked throughout the holiday. The point of Halloween is to dress up as something that you aren’t. For this Halloween season, I’d like to propose for everyone to attempt to not be blatantly racist. I promise it’s easier than it may seem.
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