Sexy Racist Hallowe’en CostumesOctober 25, 2011 No Comments
Is your Hallowe’en costume offensive? You might want to take another look before you head out.
A group of enterprising young students from Ohio University has banded together to create an awareness campaign about racist Hallowe’en costumes. With the ragline “We’re a culture, not a costume,” a person holds up a picture of the offensive way they are represented.
A black woman holds up a picture of a vampire’s victim in black face. An Asian woman holds up a picture of a Geisha. A Native American holds up a picture of a guy with feathers on his head. A Mexican holds up a picture of a man on a donkey wearing a poncho. An Middle Eastern man holds up a picture of a man in traditional Arab dress, with dynamite strapped to his chest.
Pretty standard Hallowe’en costume fare, which is the point.
Needless to say this is causing a furor. People are arguing that these costumes are just jokes, that the students need a sense of humour, that it’s Hallowe’en and they need to chill. Those are bullshit excuses. Racism and sexism are most often couched in humour so the jerk making the jokes can maintain the illusion that he’s not being mean.
However, there is a serious concern about where to draw the line. The Mexican and Native American costumes are probably called that in the store and are designed to represent the whole culture. I think we can all agree those are pretty racist.
Yet the others give me pause. For example, the Geisha is not intended to represent all Japanese women, just a small subset who dress in that specific way as part of their profession, much like nurses. Some people have made the argument that this sexualizes Asian women, but it does so no more than a French Maid costume sexualizes French women. Others have argued that the Geisha costume is so offensive because it isn’t accurate — it is just a Western idea of this traditional practice. But have you ever seen an accurate princess or cowgirl costume?
Having lived in the Middle East, it looks like the ghutra in the picture is pretty accurate. Obviously, the dynamite is incredibly offensive, but would the costume still be racist without it? I’m not sure. Part of me is crazy uncomfortable with the idea of a frat boy dressing up as a Sheikh, but I think it has more to do with what he would say that the costume itself.
Now the blackface is easy enough to write off as something that should never, ever be done. Yet, I just can’t get behind a blanket ban on the practice. In some very, very limited circumstances it can be used in a way that isn’t racist. The question is how sensitive the person is to what that represents and what their intent is.
If it didn’t involve blackface I actually think it’s a brilliant costume; the black guy as a horror-movie victim. By highlighting a standard stereotype we take for granted, it throws it into sharp relief. Why do they kill off the black characters first? Why are we so used to black people being killed in movies? Why are the white women the virginal survivors, but the black women are sexy murder victims?
What makes it so difficult to decide where to draw the line is determining the difference between stereotype and satire. It’s not only about what you are trying to say with the costume but how others will interpret it. Sure, your Asian friends might be fine with your Geisha costume choice, but if a guy on the subway starts saying “Five dollar, sucky, sucky” then you know you’ve justified his racism, which is not fun.
If we’re going to be sensitive to this though, we need to be aware of all everyone. That fortune-teller costume misrepresents travellers, who are a people with their own cultural values. The Inuit might be offended by your Eskimo costume. The sexy nun isn’t going to fly with some Catholics, and the sexy nurse really trivializes (and sexualizes) the work of medical professionals. You also might want to rethink the sexy French maid, especially in light of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Heck, I even know a woman who finds witch costumes offensive, because they are a negative stereotype of the women who practice her religion: Wicca.
So what are we left with? The same things we had before — a trunk of clothes and some common sense. Hallowe’en is a magical night where we can be anything we want, so why would you want to spend it being a jerk?
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