White People, Please Don't Paint A Sugar Skull On Your Face This Halloween

White People, Please Don't Paint A Sugar Skull On Your Face This Halloween

Latin people have good reason to be offended.
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Halloween is a lovely commercial holiday for adults to dress up in provocative costumes.

Often, it's another excuse for college students to party, and also an excuse for children to consume metric tons of candy that will likely contribute to the ongoing obesity epidemic in America.

Personally, I love to finally have a non-judgmental day to wear "Star Wars" apparel and swing around toy lightsabers like my inner 10-year old is always wanting to do.

But meanwhile south of the border from Mexico all the way to Bolivia, Latin peoples and indigenous peoples have our Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead for those of you who don't speak Spanish.

But let me make this clear -- in no way can this sacred celebration of our ancestors be compared to Halloween without drawing negative connotations.

I know some of you may wonder, "Why do so many Latin call out white people for 'cultural appropriation'?

"What's the big deal?

"Why should I as a white person, care?

"Aren't I honoring your culture?"

If you read on, I'll answer those questions, but first, let me illustrate by giving a brief life story.

As a white male of indigenous and Latin descent growing up in the American South, far from the graves of my father's family, Dia de Los Muertos was never accessible to me.

I grew up hearing stories of Guatemala's rolling green mountains and humid jungle, of my grandparents who worked for the rights of mestizos and other indigenous citizens often treated as second-class citizens.

I even managed to visit a few times with my parents to see some of my cousins and aunts and uncles. But to my shame, I never asked my dad about the Day of the Dead until last October when Guillermo del Toro's colorful masterpiece "The Book of Life" premiered in my local theater.

Intrigued by the reviews and the fact that del Toro was directing (Go watch "Pan's Labyrinth" sometime and you'll see why I was excited about del Toro), I watched the film in a newly furnished theater in Greenville, South Carolina, with only one other family to accompany me.

Nobody would say the film performed poorly at the box office, but most savvy moviegoers noticed its absence at the Oscars that year.

I couldn't help but find this infuriating.

Why had I never thought about Dia de Los Muertos?

Why did seemingly no one care in America?

Why had my father not told me that we celebrate life and death every year in Guatemala?

My abuela had passed away somewhat recently, and I remember my dad sobbing as he knew he would never see her again. She'd never really been a large physical presence in my life as I only knew my grandmother a short few years, (she did visit the States once, and our time together was magical) and I didn't speak any Spanish until late in high school.

Watching that film, I felt as though perhaps I could one day meet my grandparents again, even Abuelo Herminio whose only memory I have is the name my parents gave me. Maybe, on just one day of the year, I could meet them not as their son's white baby, but a full-grown Guatemalan young man who wished to learn about our culture. I, the living, could find lost family in death.

But I know why people did not watch "The Book of Life." Perhaps it will do better on cable in 30 years, but for now, whites remain a majority of Americans, and likely the largest demographic at the box office as well. But this event last year is not the heart of the problem.

I feel a great sadness, disconnected from the heritage that my father left behind in Guatemala in hopes of creating a better life for his family. I feel longing, as I haven't yet had a chance to visit my family's graves, nor taste the delicious fiambre my Tia Lusmi makes every year, or dance and sing with my neighbors in Antigua and San Miguel Duenas.

But more than anything else, I feel so angry at everyone, particularly other non-Latin whites, who appropriate and take for their own my people's culture by parading around drunk on King Street with poorly painted fake sugar skulls.

Can you all not see that you are desecrating the memory of my grandparents?

Of my family and the loved ones we have lost to war, economic enslavement, oppression, and colonialism?

I know that a lot of people don't really know all this. I understand why Dia de Los Muertos might be attractive to someone whose culture has been swallowed up by a pervasive and destructive social construct known as "whiteness," that the idea of finding life in death, finding a connection where it was lost, holds a lot of hope and spiritual connection.

But please, see it from my eyes, someone who shares your privilege, but also someone caught between two "worlds." See it through the eyes of someone who wants to meet their grandparents again.

When we take on cultures as costumes, we take away its meaning, just as our colonial ancestors once did. Where you see a colorful and "exotic" costume in Dia de Los Muertos on your face in the mirror, I see a continuing history of racism and fetishization.

I leave you with this thought- next time your non-Latin friend wants to co-opt an indigenous holiday, show them this article, along with all the links I've provided. Hopefully, they'll understand why this is so important.

Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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No, I Don't Have To Tell You I'm Trans Before Dating You

Demanding trans people come out to potential partners is transphobic.
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In 2014, Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old Filipina woman, was brutally murdered after having sex with a U.S. marine. The marine in question, Joseph Scott Pemberton, strangled her until she was unconscious and then proceeded to drown her in a toilet bowl.

Understandably, this crime triggered a lot of outrage. But while some were outraged over the horrific nature of the crime, many others were outraged by a different detail in the story. That was because Jennifer Laude had done the unspeakable. She was a trans woman and had not disclosed that information before having sex with Pemberton. So in the minds of many cis people, her death was the price she paid for not disclosing her trans status. Here are some of the comments on CNN's Facebook page when the story broke.

As a trans person, I run into this attitude all the time. I constantly hear cis people raging about how a trans person is "lying" if they don't come out to a potential partner before dating them. Pemberton himself claimed that he felt like he was "raped" because Laude did not come out to him. Even cis people that fashion themselves as "allies" tend to feel similar.

Their argument is that they aren't not attracted to trans people, so they should have a right to know if a potential partner is trans before dating them. These people view transness as a mere physical quality that they just aren't attracted to.

The issue with this logic is that the person in question is obviously attracted to trans people, or else they wouldn't be worried about accidentally going out with one. So these people aren't attracted to trans people because of some physical quality, they aren't attracted to trans people because they are disgusted by the very idea of transness.

Disgust towards trans people is ingrained in all of us from a very early age. The gender binary forms the basis of European societies. It establishes that there are men and there are women, and each has a specific role. For the gender binary to have power, it has to be rigid and inflexible. Thus, from the day we are born, we are taught to believe in a very static and strict form of gender. We learn that if you have a penis, you are a man, and if you have a vagina, you are a woman. Trans people are walking refutations of this concept of gender. Our very existence threatens to undermine the gender binary itself. And for that, we are constantly demonized. For example, trans people, mainly women of color, continue to be slaughtered in droves for being trans.

The justification of transphobic oppression is often that transness is inherently disgusting. For example, the "trans panic" defense still exists to this day. This defense involves the defendant asking for a lesser sentence after killing a trans person because they contend that when they found out the victim was trans, they freaked out and couldn't control themselves. This defense is still legal in every state but California.

And our culture constantly reinforces the notion that transness is undesirable. For example, there is the common trope in fictional media in which a male protagonist is "tricked" into sleeping with a trans woman. The character's disgust after finding out is often used as a punchline.

Thus, not being attracted to trans people is deeply transphobic. The entire notion that someone isn't attracted to a group of very physically diverse group of people because they are trans is built on fear and disgust of trans people. None of this means it is transphobic to not be attracted to individual trans people. Nor is it transphobic to not be attracted to specific genitals. But it is transphobic to claim to not be attracted to all trans, people. For example, there is a difference between saying you won't go out with someone for having a penis and saying you won't go out with someone because they're trans.

So when a cis person argues that a trans person has an obligation to come out to someone before dating them, they are saying trans people have an obligation to accommodate their transphobia. Plus, claiming that trans people are obligated to come out reinforces the idea that not being attracted to trans people is reasonable. But as I've pointed out, not being attracted to trans people supports the idea that transness is disgusting which is the basis for transphobic oppression.

The one scenario in which I would say a trans person should disclose their trans status is if they are going to have sex with someone and are unsure if their partner is attracted to whatever genitals they may have. In that case, I think it's courteous for a trans person to come out to avoid any awkwardness during sex. But even then, a trans person isn't "lying" if they don't come out and their partner is certainly not being "raped."

It is easy to look at the story of Jennifer Laude and claim that her death was due to the actions of one bigot. But it's more complicated than that. Pemberton was the product of a society that told him that disgust towards trans people was reasonable and natural. So when he found out that he accidentally slept with a trans woman, he killed her.

Every single cis person that says that trans people have to come out because they aren't attracted to trans people feeds into the system that caused Jennifer Laude's death. And until those cis people acknowledge their complicity in that system, there will only be more like Jennifer Laude.

SEE ALSO: Yes, You Absolutely Need To Tell Someone You're Trans Before Dating

Cover Image Credit: Nats Getty / Instagram

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