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halloween 101 for critical thinkers

October 28th, 2011     by Julia Caron     Comments

[cross-posted from a l’allure garconniere]

halloween is a tricky time of year for me, and for lots of critical folks. i’ve written about it many times over the years, and for the most part it often feels like my concerns and criticisms are ignored. but! this year i’ve found myself pleasantly surprised. i’ve been spotting these interesting articles and images around poor judgement around halloween cotumes scattered across countless different social networks, but thought i might pull them all together into one useful webspace.

consider this your syllabus, and the internet your professor. welcome to halloween 101: for critical thinkers.

firstly, let us conquer the unfortunately all too familiar problem of race drag as a halloween costume:

A young Indigenous person holding a photograph of two white people dressed offensively and appropriatively in false Indigenous costume holding a sign that says ?Me wantum piece?..not war. The text says: ?We?re a culture, not a costume. This is not who I am and this is not okay.”

This is one of a series of posters put together by students teaching about racism in society (STARS). even they seem surprised by how much attention the campaign has been receiving. it’s a clear message, clearly delivered, and i’m glad to have come across it more times than i can count.

two other good reads that go along the same vein of thinking twice before dressing as two other quite popular halloween costumes, more so among even “progressive” folks. first, there’s Madeira’s article, Appropriation of Gypsy culture and settled privilege. in it, they address a whole host of issues that Romani folks confront year round, but they pay particular attention the fact that while people are calling attention to the blantantly racist blackface/yellowface costumes, people forget about the all-too common “Gypsy” halloween costume.

…People have commented on the problematic nature of “Asian flower” and “Indian princess” halloween costumes, but no one says anything about this goddamn nonsense (link to a costume called Gypsy Princess at Do you fucking see that crap? Yeah it’s called a “Gypsy princess” costume. It would be one thing to call it a “fortune teller costume,” but no, they went with “Gypsy princess.” Not to mention that in traditional Romani culture the lower half of the body is considered unclean … no way in hell would a skirt that short ever be permissible… fuck this.

they do have a point. it is alarming the amount of time certain feminist websites have devoted to picking apart “slutty” halloween costumes (even calling it slutoween), yet paid little to no attention to this more serious issue. i’m with Madeira on this one; hopefully we can begin having meaningful conversations and change attitudes around this as an acceptable halloween costume.

the second article that is aimed a bit more at “alternative” halloween costume crowd is the recent trend of white girls deciding to go as sugar skulls. Nuestra Hermana brings us that story with Dia de Los Muertos is not your Halloween:

Dia De Los Muertos developed out of over 2,500 years of indigenous ritual celebrating death and paying respects to loved ones who have passed away. Scholars state that the Aztecs originally held a month long festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the ruler of the afterlife. After Spanish colonization and many attempts to eradicate the rituals & festival, a new merging with the Catholic holidays All Souls Day & All Saints Day developed over time to what is now Dia De Los Muertos.

the entire article is short and simple, and i recommend reading it yourself. as a general rule, if you’re wondering whether or not your costume is racist or insensitive… it probably is. and you can probably come up with something better.

and last but not least, some laughs. the ever talented jillian tamaki really struck a chord with her “have a sexy little halloween” drawings. i couldn’t choose just one, so i’m posting it here in all its glory… it starts out seeming not all that unreasonable… and gets increasingly hilarious as you scroll down.

Jillian Tamaki

what i particularly love about tamaki’s take on this issue is that it doesn’t fall into the all-too-well-trodden slut shaming path, and goes the hilarious route instead. personally, i have no problem with “sexy” halloween cotumes… as long as they are done in a way that is a costume, a character, as opposed to a “sexy” version of something that isn’t on every other day of the year. especially because they tend to sexualize hard working, underpaid, under appreciated women, namely nurses. but i’m preaching to the choir here. that ends our crash course. here, have a present:

A little dog dressed up as Superman for Halloween.

happy halloween.


halloween: i am not your halloween costume - october 2010 why you (or your dog) shouldn’t dress up as antoine dodson for halloween - at Shameless magazine (oct 29th, 2010) Appropriation of Gypsy culture and settled privilege Dia de los Muerta is not your Halloween

Tags: body politics, in my opinion..., race and racism

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