Hunting through racks and stacks of costumes and masks for Halloween at local stores can be a fun and exciting task, because for one day a year you can be someone or something you’re not. However, many of these very costumes sported by enthusiastic drunk college students and celebrities alike have raised a genuine discussion among our population. Many costumes offered in local stores are based on cultures and ethnic groups world wide, some tastefully created, and others despicable representations of other cultures.
This issue was brought to the forefront of media opening a wide debate, after professional dancer Julianne Hough, of “Dancing With the Stars,” appeared at a party dressed as Crazy Eyes from “Orange is the New Black” wearing blackface. Hough has since apologized via twitter, however it leaves us with the question, how far is too far? When does respectful representation of another ethnic or cultural group cross the line into a blatantly disrespectful slap in the face?
The costume outrage didn’t stop there, pictures surfaced online of a couple dressing as George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. The picture depicts “Zimmerman” dressed in a neighborhood watch shirt holding his fingers in the shape of a gun to “Martin’s” head, while he donned a bloody hoodie and blackface.
As if that weren’t enough, several other highly offensive photos went viral overnight because of sheer outrage by social justice bloggers, including a group of men clad in bloody turbans as “dead Iraqis” and another lady’s costume as “sexy Osama Bin Laden.” However these issues are present on campus as well as nation wide.
In the stacks of costumes at Meijer, Mexican ponchos, war bonnets, Indian bridal wear, geisha costumes, and many others line the shelves. However interesting these costumes can be, dressing up as another person’s cultural identity is a touchy subject. When many poncho and sombrero wearing, mustached men walk around talking about corona in fake Spanish accents, it isn’t funny, it’s offensive. The same goes for women who wear war bonnets, while donning historically inaccurate dresses and slinging back party punch while trying to reach a level of “white girl wasted.”
While many do not mean to offend the general public, the public should take offense. Dressing up as an aspect of person’s identity is not only incredibly rude and disrespectful, it promotes harmful stereotypes and cultural inaccuracy. This coupled with partying and drunken foolishness can create a toxic situation for misunderstanding to breed.
The origins of blackface started in the south to make fun of slaves, depicting black as being less than human. Men would spread soot on their skin and put on shows about how “dumb” their African American slaves were. Use of blackface in modern times takes from that tradition, whether the donner knows that or not.
There are ways to dress as another culture in a respectful manner, for example when preforming a ceremony or for educational purposes. Outside of that a lot can go wrong when choosing to be something else, people’s feelings can get hurt. So before planning another costume, think about how it can be interpreted. Or just choose another costume and get creative, because the internet is chock full of fantastic ideas which are way more impressive than misrepresenting someone’s identity.