Monday, November 1, 2010

halloween 2010: i am not your halloween costume

feminist hulk's costume sounds pretty awesome.

i'm sick in bed, catching up some reading, in books and online. i've been fighting a cold for about a week now, but decided to get dressed up for halloween simply because i knew i would have regretted it had i stayed in bed. i'll share more pictures of my other costume plus some more ones i took of being the shining twins, but in the meantime i wanted to talk a bit about halloween some more.

i went out to two or three parties over the course of the weekend, and yes, of course, i encountered some truly problematic costumes. i counted a good four white girls in bastardized headdresses and warpaint, and had to share the same space as a stranger dressed as a blackface. to top it off, a party i attended awarded a man wearing a turban as "best costume," and was yelling obnoxiously about being a terrorist the entire time i was there. i felt uncomfortable the entire time, but was too sick and tired to engage with him. so, i left.

and that's what most of us do, i think. we leave. if we feel up to it, we try to challenge these people and at the very least ask them why they chose their costume. if they even notice that they are engaging in race-drag, blackface, etc.

I am a human being.

I am not your Halloween costume.

I am not your party theme.

I am not your mascot.

I am not your costume.

this has been making the rounds on tumblr, originally posted by kkeilhauer. i wish there was more information out there about the context, the people in the photo, where it was taken, etc. but the message behind it is pretty simple and great: other people's cultures are not fair game for halloween costumes, theme parties, etc. the dehumanizing effect these kinds of actions have on actual human beings is something we all too often lose sight of.

sheresists is a really intelligent and amazing activist based in guelph, and she shared her thoughts on racist costumes. on the note of halloween costumes, she argues that these costumes can be worse than culturally appropriative acts.

You’re not just taking one thing (for example, a war bonnet) from another culture, you’re trying to mimic an entire group’s racial identity when you ‘dress up’ as them. These costumes are often borrowed from pre-set stereotypes about what another culture “looks like,” how they dress, and how they act. What people fail to understand is that these stereotypes are not benign. They have real, material effects on people's lives and their ability to move throughout the world. They both reinforce and are embedded in relationships and histories of power.
...When you put on a racist costume (especially sexy ‘ethnic’ costumes like the sexy Asian girl costume), you’re speaking back to histories of colonization and exploitation and you’re reinforcing the ideologies that legitimize violent institutions that abuse and sexually exploit women of colour (though, racist costumes speak to a history of colonizing and othering people of colour in general). Whatever your intentions, by sexualizing a different ethnic group, you are saying that it’s okay to fetishize certain groups of people and you’re reaffirming that they are, in fact sexualized and consumable beings. You may think it’s fun, funny, or even ironic, but you probably haven’t experienced the effects of these stereotypes.
she goes on to describe her experiences with these stereotypes, and it's difficult (but important) to read. unfortunately it's not the first time i've heard stories like hers... and i love that she challenges these actions, wants to move forward, and foster change.

now, i thought long and hard before sharing these thoughts and links. did i really want to hold a magnifying glass to racist halloween costumes? is it even worth my time, or my readers time for that matter, to point out that paris hilton - privilege personified - is wearing a racist costume? and i'm not alone in feeling this way. this year, angry asian man asked his readers to share good costumes, instead of railing about the terrible ones:
every year, I write about all the obnoxious, awful racist Asian-themed costumes that are out there. I'm tired of that. I'd like to write about some of the cool ones.
i'm going to take a page from his book. to end on a happy note, i want to share some costumes that made me smile really big. share your favourites in the comments, too!

seriously baby yoda, you are KILLING me!

janelle monae

Natalie as an Inappropriate Unicorn and her friend Heather as Rosie Ritcher from Scott Pilgrim

Pixel Girl wins points for massive creativity and amazing execution

bra-burning second wavers! radical lesbian separatists

ingrid, a friend of a friend of mine, had the most amazing ursula costume!

so, what did you get dressed up as this year for halloween? what are the best costumes you've seen, in person and online? share links in the comments!

One Woman's Costume is another woman's nightmare by Whitney Teal at
My thoughts on racist costumes by sheresists
The Halloween fallout begins by Native Appropriations
Offensive or Awesome Halloween costumes? at I Am KoreAm
Why you (or your dog) shouldn't dress up as Antoine Dodson for Halloween at Shameless
Great costumes from angry asian man readers


Ms. Dee said...

Oh my gosh, I love the little kid dressed as Janelle Monae, what a cute idea!

Adrienne K. said...

I have the context on the first one, and I can't believe it made it all the way to your blog! That picture is some of the members of the Stanford American Indian Organization, in front of the Native American Cultural Center.

They're protesting fraternity parties on campus that had encouraged party-goers to dress up as Natives--one was a Lu'au, the other a cowboys and Indians party (I think).

They're amazing!

Keep up the good work, as always.

Ashley said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog for quite a few months now and I've really loved it. I'm African-American and simply due to limited exposure, I had no idea the pain that racial stereotypes in things like costumes could cause other races as well.

Don't cringe but after reading your posts I actually was disappointed that I couldn't dress up as Pocahontas or Sacajawea and have my boyfriend as John Smith or Lewis or Carroll. Then I realized "hey, the little bit of disappointment that I get is nothing compared to the pain that I would cause if I just did whatever I wanted". I suddenly realize that I was in the same place of people who I ask not to say or do offensive things around me. Because even if they don't mean any malice, it hurts.

I really wanted to tell you that your words are not only heard but make a difference because I know that people often seem like they just won't change even the slightest bit because it's "their right" to do what they want. Sometimes it's just better to have compassion. I would ask for that and I should give it to other people too.

I'll never be a "sexy native american princess" but you know what? That's good. Because it's a stereotype that sends a wrong message and is hurtful to the people it applies to. Anyway, I just really wanted to tell you that you changed my thinking on costumes. It's not a hopeless battle. You aren't shouting into the dark.

Also, I love your blog! ;) Keep up the good work!

Jenny Morris said...

someone at a party was an "aids bed" - like what the fuck - dont you know better than that? loving your posts as always

Sarah said...

Exciting + insightful article, as usual. I'm quite an outsider as far as Halloween goes (I live in France). I see the sexism and culturally prejudiced aspects you're adressing here.

There is also an underlying, structural thing that strikes me. To stick to the example of a Chinese-inspired (or supposedly inspired) costume, it strikes me that many of these costumes seem to represent anonymous unidentified and depersonnalised Chinese characters (the "sexy Chinese princess" is not really anybody) rather than specific character identified, even but roughly, within Chinese history.

Portraying a character is often a fun way for kids (and adults too, I’d guess) to get interested in history, whether the character is real or not, and whether it's their own culture or not. I've used it many times to explore medieval times or the French revolution when working with children as a student.

So my question is : are these anonymous and depersonalised characters not more likely from the start to end up as just a cut and paste of existing stereotypes, without creating a kind of encounter between the person and the character they want to portray, since there is no real character to meet but only a stereotype ?

What do you think ? And do you think that portraying an identified character can help in fighting stereotypes by opening a door to greater knowledge about the Other in question or would you still consider it to be bad ?

Loving your blog, keep it up xo.

Vicki Mabrey said...

Interesting article, with this I would like to talk about Charles Wang . Undoubtedly I got inspired by him when I read about him in a business magazine. He owns several companies and at the same time Wang is an active philanthropist working with such causes as the Make a Wish Foundation, Smile Train, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, among others. He also founded Charles B. Wang center in New York.

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