Ah, Halloween. Once thought of as the time when the boundary between the living and the dead was most permeable, in 2014 it’s closer to a chocolate-coated, scantily-clad day of consumer worship. Really, the only things that distinguishes it from Black Friday are the sugar overload and the painfully executed costumes.
I enjoyed Halloween as much as any other white, American kid back in the day. The other neighborhood children and I would dress up and trick-or-treat at each other’s houses, being rewarded with candy for the hard work our parents put into our costumes. Those were the days– getting high on sugar while being blissfully unaware of how offensive my “gypsy” costume might be, completely ignorant of concepts like racial appropriation or sexualization.
As an adult whose only chocolate fix is coming from the remains of the candy bowl once the trick-or-treaters have come and gone (or, more often, failed to have come in the first place), I am not so blissfully ignorant. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy dressing up (I do some killer zombie make-up, complete with oozing wounds), but I wouldn’t be caught dead in a “gypsy” costume these days. After all, now I do know what cultural appropriation is and I’m crystal clear that costumes like these:
are simply NOT okay.
Now, I know what you’re thinking– “Political correctness is ruining everything!” Complaining about having to be “politically correct” seems to be in vogue right now. After all, why should you have to be thoughtful about your language? It’s other people’s fault for being offended!
Well… yes and no. Yes, we are all responsible for our own emotions and this includes being offended, but abdicating responsibility for your own words and actions only works if we assume that our words and actions exist in a vacuum. News Flash: They don’t.
What those of us with privilege so easily forget is that the language we consider “normal,” is biased. To quote Jarune Uwujaren, “The English language normalizes and validates heterosexuality, whiteness, maleness, and ability so ubiquitously that people forget that it reifies these things.” In other words, when you live in a culture that constantly reaffirms YOUR personal experience (of being white, straight, able-bodied, Christian, male, etc.) that we don’t see how it simultaneously devalues anything other than this standard.
This is occurring every day of the year, but Halloween provides a special opportunity for those who are privileged to exercise their privilege by insensitively turning other cultures into a joke and/or costume. And when you complain about political correctness because someone informed you that wearing blackface hasn’t been OK since… uh… EVER, what you’re really saying is, “It makes me uncomfortable to examine my own privilege and admit my actions may be offensive, so I’m going to shame you for feeling offended instead.”
CLASSY. I mean, sincerely, everytime I get called “oversensitive,” I know I’m dealing with someone who is “undersensitive,” perhaps even de-sensitized by a combination of culture and privilege. Because, let’s be clear, to be able to walk down the street without getting cat-called or profiled by police, is a privilege in modern day America.
That said, tasteless Halloween costumes are nothing new, but this year is offering some particularly abhorrent costumes choices. First, the “sexy ebola nurse:”
Yes, this is a thing. Nevermind that nearly 5,000 people have died from ebola this year (the vast majority of whom are West Africans) or the fact that globally we’re still dealing with the outbreak, let’s have a laugh and sexualize a haz-mat suit while we’re at it! I just… really? I mean, I get how ridiculous the hysteria in the United States has been, and I understand the inclination to mock said hysteria… but let’s not forget that thousands of people have died this year from this horrific disease (I mean, do you know what ebola does? You literally start bleeding out of your eyes and ears) and probably more will die before the year is out. If you just HAVE to have an infectious-disease themed costume, how about pick one that isn’t an imminent danger to much of the world’s population? Also, that we’ve managed to sexualize an infectious disease kind of makes my soul bleed.
As bad as the “sexy ebola nurse” costume is, it doesn’t hold a candle to what it’s clearly the worse idea for a costume since the dawn of time: Ray Rice and his battered wife.
This is just one of many horrible iterations of this costume, but I think it’s the most hard hitting. For starters, these idiots are wearing blackface. I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014, but BLACKFACE IS NEVER OK. DO NOT WEAR BLACKFACE. Sinceriously. Just DO NOT DO IT. Blackface was racist in 1830 and it’s still racist in 2014.
Secondly, the fact that this is even a costume completely trivializes domestic violence. You want to know why murder jokes are sometimes funny, but rape jokes rarely are? Because we take murder seriously, but we mock, shame and degrade rape victims. Domestic violence is in the same boat– it’s an extremely pervasive problem and one that is not taken seriously at all. Domestic violence affects people of all genders, but it disproportionately affects women and even more so women of color.
Don’t believe me? How about the fact that a battered black woman is A HALLOWEEN COSTUME this year? If that doesn’t send up a red flag, I don’t know what will.
Listen, I could sit here all day quoting statistics about domestic violence, violence against women, violence against women of color, prevalence of violence committed by professional athletes, etc., but I’m not going to. You know why? Because anyone with a sense of decency should be able to see why these costumes are unacceptable without any convincing.
And if you’re one of those folks who’s thinking to themselves that I’m just trying to ruin your fun and I can’t “take a joke,” let me ask you this: Why do others have to be mocked, belittled and degraded for you to have fun?