Race is not a costume

By Elena Pinsker ‘17Design Editor

Humor has always been a very personal, subjective thing. Countless comedians have pushed the boundaries of what is appropriate in stand-up comedy, yielding varied responses from those offended and entertained alike. When Halloween rolls around, some use the holiday as a way of making a statement, whether it be to assert fashion and style or to prompt a laugh from others. However, many people, professional comedians or not, have crossed the line, leaving the territory of what is funny and entering an area that is downright wrong. There are a few popular costume trends that blatantly cross this line, whether they be racist, hyper-sexualized, or both.

At the Harwood Halloween party, I saw a male student wearing a poncho and a fake, Chevys-esque sombrero as his costume. I don’t know who he is, but I assume someone will read this and think, “Hey! That’s my friend,” or perhaps he’ll stumble upon this himself. So I want to preface what I am about to say by saying that I don’t intend to offend this student. I can’t assume he was intending to do or be any of the things I’m going to talk about. But I also feel it is important to acknowledge that racism, whether intended or not, exists among the 5C student body.

I acknowledge that, because I am white, I was born with privileges I may never be able to fully realize. I will never be followed in a store for fear of me stealing something, I will never be pulled aside for “random” checking at an airport, and I will never be stopped by the police for suspicious loitering. I will never truly understand the position a minority is put in every single day, and Halloween is not an excuse to make light of the racist attitudes that, at the moment, color this country. Many people (who are, let’s face it, mostly white) do not always understand what it means to put on a “Mexican” costume and parade around, because they do not have to face these stereotypes on a daily basis. Not only are costumes like this an inaccurate representation of a culture, but the joking manner in which privileged people wear these outfits only highlights the deeply-ingrained racism that perpetuates it. These costumes strip away the richness of entire cultures and reduce them to these misguided stereotypes. An entire group of people become nothing more than a farce, or a source of entertainment to those who will never understand what it truly feels like to be marginalized.

On a similar note, the abundance of Sexy *Insert Race/Culture Here* costumes is appalling. Not only do these costumes embody the racism described above, they sexualize an entire group of people. Minorities are already hyper-sexualized by the media, with an abundance of music videos featuring women of color in demeaning and objectifying roles. These costumes only add to the idea that non-white women are nothing more than objects of desire, whose culture is a fetishized stereotype of the privileged, racists fantasies. Another trend that seems to be popular on the 5C campus is the appropriation of Día de los Muertos, or painting a sugar skull design on one’s face for Halloween. Halloween has (relatively) recently become an extremely commercialized holiday, and has lost any cultural meaning that it once had. However, Día de los Muertos is a Mexican (not Hispanic, not Latino) celebration of the dead, and has remained an important cultural celebration to this day. The appropriation of this holiday strips it of its cultural significance, turning it into something that is on par with the rest of Halloween attire—sexy cats, goblins, and the like. Día de los Muertos is a rich and important celebration of life and death, and its calendar coincidence with Halloween does not make it an appropriate costume choice. It is inappropriate and offensive to see people adorning this makeup as their costume, and it reduces a deeply cultural celebration to a fashion trend.

These costumes may be funny for the person wearing them, but to have one’s culture reduced to a sexualized, inaccurate stereotype, or to strip it of its historical and cultural meaning, is an extremely dehumanizing thing. It shows the privilege that is taken for granted, and the cultures that are being disrespected. It perpetuates inaccurate representations of minorities who already face disdain and racism on a daily basis and shows the ingrained belief that other cultures are nothing more than a fashion statement. In short, it is no laughing matter.