It's that time of year when certain Halloween revelers think about donning a sombrero and fake mustache, a turban or a skimpy Pocahontas costume - and people of color beg them not to.
This year, a campaign put together by a group of Ohio University students has garnered national media attention. Branded "We're a Culture, not a Costume," the posters from Students Teaching About Racism in Society feature several young people holding photographs of "ethnic" costumes - a geisha, a sombrero-wearing man on a fake burro, a woman in blackface, among others.
The campaign has also, not surprisingly, generated a substantial amount of backlash from people who say they mean no offense, as well as parody posters featuring "cultures" like robots, vampires and dogs.
The Native American issues and images blog Native Appropriations, which has its own mini-campaign going on Twitter, has the tone of the annual Halloween costume backlash down. In a post yesterday titled "Open Letter to the PocaHotties and Indian Warriors this Halloween," blogger Adrienne K. wrote:
I already know how our conversation would go. I'll ask you to please not dress up as a bastardized version of my culture for Halloween, and you'll reply that it's "just for fun" and I should "get over it." You'll tell me that you "weren't doing it to be offensive" and that "everyone knows real Native Americans don't dress like this." You'll say that you have a "right" to dress up as "whatever you damn well please." You'll remind me about how you're "Irish" and the "Irish we're oppressed too." Or you'll say you're "German", and you "don't get offended by people in Lederhosen."
But you don't understand what it feels like to be me. I am a Native person. You are (most likely) a white person. You walk through life everyday never having the fear of someone mis-representing your people and your culture. You don't have to worry about the vast majority of your people living in poverty, struggling with alcoholism, domestic violence, hunger, and unemployment caused by 500+ years of colonialism and federal policies aimed at erasing your existence.
It's a heartfelt argument and a good read. Is it ever acceptable to dress up in ethnic drag? Uh, not really. Nadra Kareem Nittle writes in About.com that while it may be acceptable to dress up as a particular individual, say a celebrity, of another race (though many would disagree with this) and even offers tips for not offending people, "Under no circumstances is it okay to dress up as a Mexican, black guy or Asian dude for Halloween." She goes on:
A racial group does not make for an appropriate costume, and any desire to dress up as a generic minority for Halloween is a pretty good indicator that you’ve bought into stereotypes about the group in question.
If you must absolutely go ethnic at Halloween, there's always ethnic food - that's right, dress up as warring bottles of hot sauce. Be a knish. Be a giant burrito, like this guy:
But if your giant taco or burrito costume happens to come with a sombrero (yes, even Mexican food costumes come with sombreros), ditch it. Happy Halloween.