Yes, Your Halloween Costume is Offensive. Every day. In every way.

There is an orange background with a black spooky tree on top of a hill with pumpkins hanging from the tree limbs. 3 bats are pictured flying around. The text reads HALLOWEEN

IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR. 

Despite any preemptive posts and attempts to address the issue and to avoid the discussions, there are always questions and justifications about what constitutes an appropriate Halloween costume.

The questions and justifications range from statements such as “[m]y child is really into the culture” to “[w]e are honoring the culture” to ”[m]y child has learning, developmental, or behavioral issues and really, really wants to wear this costume” to “I have _____________ (insert appropriate oppressed group) friends and they do not think it is a problem or find it offensive” to “I/we don’t mean to be offensive.”

I have to confess that I am both perplexed and irritated that it is necessary to spend so much time on this subject when there are so many other issues that need to be addressed. I find it hard to worry (or even care) about what costume your child or niece or nephew or cousin (who happens to be white) will wear for HALLOWEEN when I have to worry about what my child or niece or nephew or cousin (who happens to be a person of color) should wear, carry, do, or say EVERY DAY of her or his life. 

Think about it for a minute.  White children and their parents are worrying about costumes.   Children of color and their parents have to worry about them being shot and killed by an unauthorized neighborhood watcher, a white man intent on exercising his privilege to try to control everyone around him, or an overzealous police officer who uses deadly force when it is not necessary.

So, I have three statements to make that I hope will stop the need for any additional discussion:

  1. If you really want to show how much you honor and respect someone’s culture, I submit that there are better ways to do so than dressing up in a “costume” (that may not even accurately reflect the culture) on a night (Halloween) that is devoted to fun and is full of frivolity (and sometimes raucous behavior).
  2. Whether something is or is not offensive (at best) or racist (at worst) is not a popularity contest. Therefore, it does not matter how many people (whether they are members of a particular oppressed group or not) say that something is not offensive or is not racist, if it is offensive or racist to even one person, I submit that adopting a Christ-like attitude of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves would dictate that we not do something that hurts that one person.
  3. After the statements of why a particular costume is offensive (at best) or racist (at worst) have been made, the choice is either to wear the costume anyway or find another costume. Continuing to defend an action that has been identified by a person of color as offensive (at best) or racist (at worst) serves no purpose other than to use white privilege to tell a person of color that her or his views do not matter and that her or his voice does not count.

So, it is really quite simple.  If you feel you have to ask if your or your child’s Halloween costume is offensive, then the odds are that your Halloween costume is Offensive!   So EITHER wear it (or let your child wear it) and be prepared to face all of the consequences of your decision OR do not wear it (or let your child wear it).

If you choose the latter course, you will be taking a small step in the direction of letting people of color know that you see us and that you hear us.  If you choose the former course, you will be adding to the daily snubs and actions that make people of color feel unseen and unheard.

THE CHOICE IS YOURS.  But, whatever you decide, I beseech you to stop asking questions and raising justifications about the appropriateness of your or your child’s Halloween costume.

3 responses to “Yes, Your Halloween Costume is Offensive. Every day. In every way.

  1. Thanks, Bryndis. This is a very helpful framing of the problem for me. Particularly this contrast you draw:

    “I find it hard to worry (or even care) about what costume your child or niece or nephew or cousin (who happens to be white) will wear for HALLOWEEN when I have to worry about what my child or niece or nephew or cousin (who happens to be a person of color) should wear, carry, do, or say EVERY DAY of her or his life.”

    Like

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