On racist Halloween costumes

Part of me knows this will happen each year: a white person will decide to be edgy, exercise his or her’s First Amendment right and dress up as a person of color for Halloween. It’s a fact: white people have been taught that the bodies/experiences of POCs and other marginalized groups are up for the taking; that it’s acceptable to debase and ignore our humanity by appropriating our likeness. So, this will no doubt happen.

And this year is no different. Along with white people donning the obligatory black face costume, they’ve added a new twist: dressing up as Trayvon Martin’s dead body. The photo below was posted onto a person’s Instagram account, with the person on the right as George Zimmerman.

trayvon-costume

What tiny bit of faith I may have had in humanity has been all but shattered. I should note that this “costume” of Trayvon Martin is of his dead body–not of him as a living human being. It sort of reminds me of how white people paraded the bodies and body parts of lynching victims around and even reserved some parts of the victims for souvenirs. But, that’s a slightly different subject.

Anyway, in the face of all this, people of color and other marginalized groups are supposed to sit back and not let this type of behavior offend us. It’s Halloween, after all, and these people are just participating in the fun behind the day. It’s just the costume, so what harm can it do?

I’m sure this has been said before, but I’ll say it again.

Dressing up as people of color or other marginalized groupsSerena 1 for Halloween or other costume-related events is a slap in the face to our existence. Not only is it racist as fuck, it perpetuates the widely accepted belief among white people that who we are, and what we experience, is fair game.

Our personhood, our humanity is fair game for every white person to mimic, appropriate and exploit for emotional, financial or social gain; our bodies are a way they can gain notoriety if they want to engage in shock value entertainment.

This robbing of our dignity denies marginalized groups a chance to determine our own fate, our own humanity and our ability to strike back at the constant portrayal of our existence as The Other.

It’s not cool to dress up as Serena Williams, as this gentleman decided to do to the right. It’s not cool to dress up as a Native American, an Arab, a Muslim, a Geisha or even a migrant worker for Halloween. It’s racist, disrespectful, repulsive and offensive to the people of color you are exploiting.

Even as I say all of this, the message has not and most likely will never sink in. White people will still feel it’s their right to exploit, degrade and appropriate the lives of marginalized groups as they’ve been told our otherness denies us a chance to be viewed as human. They’ve been taught that humanity starts and ends with their existence, and anything outside of that should not be designated as equal to whiteness.

With that in mind, and white people’s insistence on their right to appropriate and offend marginalized groups, why should people of color give them the benefit of the doubt about their goodness?

Why should we have to give you the benefit of the doubt when you relentlessly don black face and mimic black people just for the hell of it?

Why do you feel you have the right to reject any notion that people of color are entitled to the right to be treated with dignity and respect?

Why do you think it’s your place wear a costume that not only offends me, but makes a mockery of my existence? Why do you think it’s your right to appropriate, take from and modify my culture, my personhood, my humanity to make a profit or just for kicks?

Why do you hide behind Halloween as an excuse for you racist behavior? Why do you do this, but get defensive when people of color call you out on your racism?

In spite of all of this, some white people who are just as outraged will demand we see them for their inherent goodness. Anytime we express our outrage, we get the “Well, I’m white and I, too, think this is offensive” or the “We are not all like this” comments. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear it because 1) I’m fully aware of this and 2) it derails the conversation. I don’t want to hear it because those excuses allow white people to avoid confronting and dismantling the system that maintains their existence and humanity as the default.

Instead of white people pleading for us to understand that they all are not like that, it would be more beneficial for them to challenge their ignorant sisters and brothers on their racist actions. POCs can’t solely bare the burden of stamping out racism; white folks need to take responsibility. POCs didn’t create this system nor do we benefit from whiteness and white supremacy, so the onus should be on white folks to challenge the system.

But, I know I’m preaching to the choir. I know I’m just writing and talking for my health, as white people will still wear these costumes and act indignant when they are called out for their racism. They will still believe they have a right to deny us our full humanity and degrade our existence by appropriating our bodies for their entertainment. As long as white people — and the complicit people of color who are ready to jump to their defense — feel they have the God-given right to deny me and other POCs our humanity, they will continue to make a mockery of and appropriate our existence all in the name of fun.

4 comments on “On racist Halloween costumes

  1. I completely agree with your points. In the interests of opening up something productive, however, I thought of the example of the costumes that people dress up in that represent people or characters we like or admire or want to be like. Say, for example, Madam Curie, or Frederick Douglass. Now, if I, a white man, wanted to surprise and challenge my fellow partygoers with either one of those costumes, it could be argued I’d be insulting either racially or gender…ly. However, my intent isn’t to insult or make fun of my costume subject (whether I mind making myself look ridiculous, that’s a separate story) (and, honestly, my body type would lend itself slightly better to the fantastic Neil DeGrasse Tyson). So, where would that sort of positive intent fit in?

    1. First, you can’t compare dressing up as Madam Curie with the racial offensiveness of dressing up as Frederick Douglass. Second, how about not dressing up as a black man at all? Or as a woman? There is no positive intent when privileged bodies use Halloween as an excuse to dress up in attire designed to exploit and offend their humanity.

      1. That’s fair. I was curious if you thought there was any context where a respectful approach could justify representing someone you admired who was a different race than yourself. Sans blackface, obviously; with the cultural and historical context, that’s offensive regardless. But absent makeup, I wondered if intent mitigated. I do understand your point and reaction; no insult was intended, I was seeing if there was any discussion potential in the thought. My apologies for the accidental offense.

  2. What if I and a few partygoers went as “people of color” by picking a few colors like pink, blue, green etc. and decking ourselves out. Would that be offensive? Or would it draw attention to the ridiculousness of people stereotyping and discriminating against groups of people based on the color of their skin.

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