Though there are many different versions of Halloween’s origins, we can mostly all agree that the occasion has evolved into a day on which both children and adults dress up in an enormous variety of costumes. These costumes typically range in scope from funny to scary to imaginative; traditionally, costumes of clowns, cartoon characters, zombies, witches and wizards can usually be seen worn on Halloween — costumes in good humor and good taste. However, since I’ve become more well versed in sociology, and more apt to observe the world around me, I have been noticing in the past few Halloweens — and this year’s Halloween in particular — just how distasteful, and downright insulting and racist some of these new costumes are.
Since when is dressing up as another ethnicity, race, or stereotype an acceptable Halloween costume? Browsing this year’s Halloween stores, such as the big chain iParty, Spirit, and Party City, as well as through online retailers offering Halloween costumes, such as Amazon.com, I can’t help but be absolutely appalled at how many different “ethnic” costumes I encountered. Such costumes included “Native American Maid”, “Sexy Indian”, “Geisha Girl”, “Dragon Samurai”, “China Woman”, “Hot Japanese Woman”, “Sexy Spanish Senorita”, “Latina Dancer”, “Arab Sheikh”, “Arabian Dancer”, “Street Thug”, and by far, the most offensive, “Illegal Alien”. Since when can a person freely decide to pick an ethnic category or stereotype and “be it” for Halloween? Since when is it acceptable to consume culture and ethnicity in this way?
Not only has Halloween completely capitalized on the idea of temporarily transforming a person’s ethnicity into another by quickly throwing on some cheaply made garbs made to look authentic, but in doing this and marketing it as acceptable, has made the entire notions of ethnicity, heritage, and race, as well as the seriousness of the problematic stereotypes that accompany such notions, a complete mockery. This mockery has become so prevalent and accepted by mainstream American (read: white) society, that even supermodel turned television series producer, Tyra Banks, thought it a wondrous idea to transform her model-hopefuls into different races for their photoshoots, simply by applying darker make-up to the white and Asian American women’s faces (as seen on a recent episode of America’s Next Top Model).
Though many may argue that there is no harm in dressing up as someone else’s ethnicity or a racist stereotype, and that it is all in “good fun”, the truth is, there is much harm in perpetuating this type of racism. By allowing this sort of “covert” racism to continue, we are not only sending the message, but also inadvertently embracing the idea, that if a person’s skin tone does not deem them “white” by American standards, then that person is by default, susceptible to not being taken seriously at all. By default, then, this person who is deemed not “white” by American standards, is a fair shot at mockery and racist cultural consumption by mainstream America.