In the days leading up to and following people getting decked out to the nines in incredibly racist and sexist costumes on Halloween, much ink gets spilled in response to the sexist side of things. When it comes to racist costumes, though? People are much less likely to see things in a cut and dry manner. While the sexist costumes are pretty much straightforwardly and unabashedly sexist and heteronormative, the racist costumes are often the result of white supremacist culture encouraging us to think of “white” as a default race, and every “Other” race as exotic, and hence fair game as fodder for Halloween costumes. When confronting people who make, sell, or buy these costumes, the response is often that you are simply “taking things too seriously.” This has happened repeatedly to me in the past, and I won’t be surprised if it happens to me in 2010.
This year, analysts are already reporting that the most popular costumes will be Jersey Shore characters, followed closely by Lady Gaga. Another trend that has been popping up online is the “Bed Intruder” costume (which is in fact a person named Antoine Dodson who rose to fame after he was interviewed by a news crew when a man attempted to rape his sister).
Aside from the fact that all of these costumes distract from the original point of Halloween (to dress in a scary costume, not a flash in the pan pop culture reference), many of the examples we’re hearing about are pretty much… racist. This came to my attention when I had the unfortunate opportunity of stumbling upon American Apparel’s Halloween suggestions (warning: it’s gross). We’ve got Egyptian, Indian Chief, Native American, and, oh yes, Sultan & Harem of Sexy Dancers. The fact that it’s acceptable to dress up as a gypsy for Halloween while Roma people are being persecuted, harrassed, and deported just seems off to me. And let’s not even get started on the popularity of the “illegal alien” costume in the Southern United States.
There’s no real point in deconstructing why I, and many others, find these costumes appalling, offensive, and just plain bad. My point is that we are swimming in a sea of socially acceptable racist costumes. No, the intention of the person wearing the costume is not necessarily inherently racist, but I’d be curious to know what their point is. And often, I ask them myself. Generally speaking, people are dismissive and defensive because they “just want to have fun” and “it’s just a costume.” I’d like to argue otherwise. Can’t we put these costumes in perspective? Why can’t we encourage people to think twice about wearing blackface on Halloween? Many people have been talking about how blackface culture is back with a vengeance, in Hollywood, in fashion, and in music. I want to take back one of my favourite occasions, is that so bad?
Coming back to Antoine Dodson and the “Bed Intruder” costume. According to Jezebel and their commentors, not only is this perfectly acceptable, it is cute! Myself, on the other hand, feel kind of nauseated by this kind of “completely removed from its original context i.e. race, class, and sexual violence” humour. Dressing your dog up as a young, black, gay, up-until-his-15-minutes-of-fame poor man just seems wrong to me, on many levels. No, seriously, there are so many other better costumes for dogs! Or you know, you could… not dress them up at all?
In short: please, don’t dress up as Antoine Dodson. Don’t dress as Snooki. Don’t dress up as “a race.” Don’t continue to perpetuate racist, sexist, and classist stereotypes just because it’s the pop culture thing to do at the moment. Be witty! Be scary! Have fun, but don’t prevent others from having fun either.
Clearly I don’t have all the answers, though. I’m wondering, how do we confront these racist costumes in productive ways? What do you think about racism and Halloween? And don’t even get me started on the intersection of racism and sexism in many Halloween costumes. What have been your favourite subversive costumes you’ve seen over the years?
Let me know what you think about this in the comments.
Is your Halloween costume racist? at Gawker (I strongly advise not reading the comments)
Immigrant activists call out “Illegal Immigrant” costumes at CNN
Sarah Silverman does blackface… again.
Don’t Dress as Gypsy for Halloween
Antoine Dodson’s Sister: On Invisibility as Violence at Crunk Feminist Collective
Longer, unedited rant