The Problem with Halloween

by | Oct 30, 2015 | cover story, Culture, Opinion | 0 comments

Peace,

On Thursday, October 29th, I went to the Glenn Wallichs Theatre on campus to attend, what was advertised as, a Halloween costume sale. From what I could gather, it seemed that old stage costumes were being sold for the upcoming holiday. As I entered the lobby of the theatre, I noticed a stack of sombreros being sold next to an assortment of costumes and accessories. At first, I stood and stared. But after processing what was going on, I became upset and left. 

A student that had been accompanying me began to speak and helped me understand why I was so infuriated. Acting on high emotions, I returned to the Wallichs theatre and bought the remaining sombreros in stock—17, in total. From there, I deliberated with faculty Julie Townsend and Tim Seiber about how to best go about channeling my immense anger and sadness toward the issue. Together, we decided to re-appropriate the image. With two signs stapled on every sombrero, one that read “SOLD ON CAMPUS” and the other, “THIS IS NOT A FUCKING COSTUME”, 17 students wore the sombreros throughout the day, creating dialogue and awareness. What’s important to understand is that this article, below, was agreed upon and written before this incident even took place.

To the students of color who were hurt or betrayed or shocked or not shocked or infuriated by this, please listen to me now. I am writing directly to you. Let there be a paradigm shift. You are not privileged to go to this school. This school is privileged to have you. The selling of this product is a blatant sign of disrespect and disregard for your well-being, and the University of Redlands owes you an apology. But before that happens, let me say that I am sorry. I yell with you. I cry with you. I feel with you. And still with you, I want to say that it will not always be like this. One day we’ll be so tall.

Jonathan Garcia, Editor-in-Chief

 

I asked for a king sized candy bar in my trick or treat basket but all I got was cultural appropriation!

When I think back on my childhood years I have two distinct memories of Halloween. The first is from when I was around the age of six. I dressed up as a cheetah; I wore a full-length printed leotard. It was very fuzzy and I accessorized it with long glittery nails, whiskers drawn on with face paint, and a cheetah ear headband. No sign of inherent racism or sexism in this costume, but speed up about ten years to high-school. I attended my first “no parent boy-girl party” as a witch. My version of this costume included a full length cape, green face paint, a towering hat, and of course, a broom. It seemed that I had missed the memo of including sex appeal into my costume.

Once I got to college and became a semi-aware and adult-ish type of person, I realized that the most popular Halloween costumes were almost always demonstrative of cultural appropriation. Imagine any costume possible. Then, throw in a pinch of racism. How about a little sexism? BAM! You’ve arrived in the midst of the Hallmark holiday that demonstrates how our society continues to stereotype and mistreat people who have faced oppression.

When you type in “Adult Halloween Costume” into Google Images, one of the very first images is of a “sexy cherokee warrior Indian” costume. This costume is worn by a blonde white woman who is wearing what essentially resembles a fringe bikini and high-heeled boots that rise to the upper thigh.  The majority of the other image results show white women in a range of revealing outfits including a cupcake, a carrot, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and Winnie the Pooh.

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My problem with these images has absolutely nothing to do with the sex appeal of the outfits; of course women should feel empowered enough to dress however they want whenever they want. My problem is that these costumes consist of offensive and incorrect portrayals of reality.

Halloween didn’t start this way. Heck, it didn’t even start with trick or treating and sugar overdoses from processed candy. So how did we get here?

Halloween first started with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which translates to “Summer’s End,’ to celebrate the end of harvest in the area of the world that is now known as Ireland. People used this festival to prepare for the beginning of the dark and cold seasons. Later on, Pope Gregory III used the festival as a time to honor the dead calling it “All Souls Day.”  

By the middle of the 19th century, Halloween became common in America and was first introduced by English colonists.

As time went on, the celebration adapted to the ever-changing society.

Today, we see too many instances of costumes that perpetuate a cycle of cultural appopriation. When a person adopts the characteristics and ideas of a different culture for superficial or misunderstood reasons, it creates an environment of acceptance for one side and pain for another. Often times, those who are participating in cultural appropriation claim that they do not feel, or even know, that they are doing anything wrong. But this is precisely the problem.

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Halloween demonstrates society’s need to categorize people into derogatory stereotypes at every turn. Whether knowingly or not, the costume choices we make say something not only about ourselves, but also about how we acknowledge and understand different cultures and people around us.

Cultural appropriating costumes don’t just stop at the “Cherokee woman costume.” Some other highlights include, “arab costume,” “oriental disguise,” “mexican serape hat,” “adult dragon lady geisha costume,” and also just absolutely anything that involves painting your face black.

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So what does this all mean and how can I enjoy Halloween in a respectful way?

The best thing to do is engage in these platforms. Actively listen to what they have to say so that the next time you are picking out a costume, you can think twice about what kind of effects your actions have on the people around you. If you have to ask whether or not something is culturally appropriating, you should probably wear something else.

[Images courtesy of Kamal Bilal, Redlands Bulldog photographer]

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