Welcome to October! The leaves are turning, pumpkin spice is in the air and at your local Halloween Store, business is booming. I should know. I work at one. Working at a Halloween Store has its perks. I basically work at a seasonal goth store where I can buy Beetlejuice leggings at a discount and I get to help people create the costume of their dreams. Halloween is great in that way- you get to be someone else for a night. A Disney Princess? A Zombie? You name it, we got it. But see, that’s when things get weird. For a night, you are basically taking on the identity of someone else, whether that identity be fictional or not. And it’s usually the not that leads to awkwardness at parties.
Surprisingly, the costumes have gotten better as far as packaging and representation. The Rastafarian Man doesn’t showcase a white dude wearing black dreads and a red, green and yellow beanie. I haven’t ran across a Dragon Lady costume. Yet. But you can still find a feather headdress in the Western section and we have it in toddlers too. Yes, your little tyke can dress as a little warrior. How cute. I bet the children at your nearest reservation are delighted about that type of representation.
People might think that there’s nothing wrong with wearing something goofy for a night of fun. These are just stereotypes after all. They shouldn’t be harmful. But that’s the thing. These people exist. They see it every day. This is an image that is being perpetuated through costume. It’s not like people of color live in their own bubble and don’t see your white boyfriend wearing a fake black mustache and a sombrero while just the other day he shared a Facebook post about the pros of a better and more efficient Mexican Border Patrol. It’s not like we can’t see Jen from English Lit class wearing a headdress to that college party when several months ago she opposed the Standing Rock protest.
The issue with dressing as these “characters” is the privilege of only being these people for a day. It’s funny to your friends that you are this identity. And that’s the joke. You, a white individual, are dressing as a Mexican or a Native American and that’s what’s so funny about it. Their identity is a joke to you.
So, when picking your Halloween costume this October, put a lot of thought into the identity you are assuming, even if it’s just for a night. What is it saying about you or the world we live in? How stupid are you going to feel when you try to explain to your kids, “oh yeah, I definitely thought black face was a great idea because I really wanted to be Martin Luther King for halloween even though there’s hundreds of important white historical figures I could have been.” Is that too much for you to think about? Do you just want to find a quick costume that doesn’t seem too politically charged because it’s just a party after all? Maybe you should settle for that Superman costume after all.