It’s almost Halloweekend, meaning you’ve probably been invited to at least one party. Before you put on that Beyoncé costume and start feeling yourself, make sure you skip the bronzer. Otherwise, your look crossing the line from fun costume to racist impersonation. You also may want to give more thought to your Pocahontas costume.
A Florida high school student is learning the hard way, after getting so much backlash over her blackface Nicki Minaj costume that she had to delete her Twitter account.
For those of you who don’t understand why there are lines you shouldn’t cross in costume, we’ll explain.
What’s wrong with blackface?
For hundreds of years, from when people got their entertainment at traveling carnivals to the beginning years of film, black people did not play black characters. Instead, a white person would paint their face dark and act out stereotypes, usually portraying black people as dumb and animalistic.
When black people did start to get roles during the film era, they were often reduced to those same stereotypes. Most of the time, they were laughed at by the white characters in the film and treated like children or goofy pets whose brains couldn’t process deep thoughts.
Blackface is a historically racist act and it’s not a joke.
What other costumes are offensive?
Don’t go as a Mexican for Halloween, then go around telling everyone your name is Pedro and you work as a gardener. Also, don’t put on some moccasins, stick a feather in your hair and tell everyone you’re Native American.
Susan Scafidi, a professor at Fordham University and author of Who Owns Culture: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, said in a Refinery29 interview that Halloween has a history of addressing inversions of power. People will often dress as powerful figures—politicians, cops, firefighters, superheroes—but when you wear a costume impersonating an oppressed group, there is no inversion of power. You’re “reinforcing current power structures in an offensive way” by kicking these ethnic groups when they’re down.
How can we do better?
Stick with the basics—witches, vampires, police officers, politicians, superheroes—when you’re dressing up for Halloween. If you do go as a celebrity, skip the bronzer and just wear the outfit. If the only way people can tell you’re Nicki Minaj is by painting your face, then your costume isn’t good anyway.
Sure, you’re entitled to have a good time, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of other people’s feelings. If you’re not sure where your costume lies on the racist spectrum, ask yourself if someone from that ethnic group could wear that on any given day without being unjustly targeted by people. If the answer is “no,” then you should start shopping for another costume.
If millennials are going to create a more understanding world, as many of us say we want to, we have to be empathetic to others.
(GIFs via giphy.com)