To be fair, I was only a teenager when I went to a Halloween party in black face. What did I know about it? All I knew of black face were grainy clips of a white guy in dark makeup crooning “Mammy” and “Toot Toot Tootsie” with sparkling, white-gloved ‘jazz-hands.’ I didn’t know what to make of the minstrel show clips I saw as a child, but I observed everyone having a good ‘ole time. All the banjos and slap-happy dancing folks didn’t seem oppressed to my childish eyes.
I could have chosen to caricature a multitude of races and creeds for my Halloween enjoyment. In the late 70s and early 80s when I was trick-or-treating, Mexicans, Arabs, Chinamen, and Indian Chiefs were neighbourhood favourites. A costume choice to lampoon any of these other groups would have been far less utterly self-disparaging.
At this point, it’s probably relevant to mention that I am black. A black kid in black face. Sadly, I was not dressed as an “ironic” Al Jolson. At the time, my understanding of irony was as ill-formed as the lyrics of an Alanis Morrisette song.
Not to defend such self-abnegating ignorance, but I did grow up in one of the WASP-iest white families on earth. All of my best friends were white, my local television celebrities were white, everyone at the country club was white. The Beatles best album was white. Cripes, even the food I ate was white – potatoes, cauliflower, butter and crumpets, turnips, cucumber sandwiches with cream cheese and the unsightly brown crusts cut off. With the exception of the inconvenient fact of the skin-colour thing, I was a white dude, inside and out.
I saw other ethnic groups and creeds with the eyes of any other teenaged white kid at the time: in narrow racist terms. The various peoples of the world offered a buffet of stereotypes and parodies to nourish my insatiable appetite for small-minded, xenophobic amusement. It was the culturally insensitive prerogative we white folks thrive on.
I don’t want to be a party pooper about this stuff. Hey, I’m pointing the finger as much at yours truly as anyone else. The skin on that finger may be slightly dark-ish, but the bones inside are as white as Tommy Hilfiger and the people he makes clothes for; which fill my own closet.
Halloween is all about the fun; about kids dressing up, trick-or-treating and running like banshees on a sugar-rush. Adults young and old will head off to Halloween parties and engage in the ritual of binge-drinking, serial groping, dry humping, and projectile vomiting. The combination of alcohol and anonymity afforded by costumes will embolden party-goers in their quest to end the evening screwing like the werewolves and trolls they purport to be. Let’s hope the legions who slither out of their mystery date’s bed for the “walk of shame” the next morning will have done nothing more than picked up an easily treatable itch and a fleeting tinge of regret; that all will have been done in good, clean fun.
But amidst all the good-natured Halloween shenanigans is a shadowy side that brings out of the woodwork the latent racism, intolerance, and insensitivity lingering in our midst. It’s time the knuckle-dragging apparition was chased away from the festivities, once and for all. Here’s how: peel yourself away from the social media feed before you head out, look in the mirror, and think.
Thinking. That shit is hard, I know. It’ll only take a few seconds, I promise.
There. Now you can put that stuffy, dusty intellect back in the attic with the other relics of humanity’s evolutionary pre-eminence and get back to being the best debauching troglodyte you can be!
Who can forget, just a few years ago, Prince Harry going to a Halloween party dressed as Hitler? On his way, the Prince would have breezed past dozens of people at Buckingham Palace camped out in his SS regalia. The flurry of panic as Her Majesty’s Royal PR machine scurried across Westminster Abbey’s marble floors in damage-control could have been avoided if only those at Court had seen fit to point out the oversight, “Pray Hal, good chap, do forgive the presumption, but wouldn’t Napoleon be a trifle more a propos as choice of amusing rogue than the mad man who exterminated Jews, reduced the world to bedlam, and nearly demolished your family’s kingdom for kicks?” Loyal establishment friends are dreadfully hard to find.
Since 9-11 the profound dearth of creativity and imagination in our culture inevitably spawns countless variations on a theme of Osama bin Laden at Halloween. Scores of frat boys wield toy AK-47s, brandish any garment on their head as a turban, flub crappy hindu accents, and pretend to extol jihad. Apparently, they are dressed up as “terrorists,” a parody which, in their mind, shouldn’t warrant outrage from anyone.
Except, the bong-soaked performances of “the terrorist” are robbed of their poignancy by the sheer magnitude of ignorance and stupidity these morons bring to bear upon it. They end up mocking whatever they think passes for an Arab or Muslim – typically a South Asian – and half-heartedly parrot the lie they’re being a “terrorist.” In reality they’re projecting the pea-brained idea that every Muslim is either a terrorist or a sleeper-cell supporter.
It’s rare to see anyone idiotic enough to dress up as an “Indian” for Halloween. But it still happens, especially among little kids whose parents obviously need sensitivity training. In Canada, where I live, the plan to obliterate aboriginals was executed by stealing children away from their families and placing them in residential schools where they were abused by servants of God in the hopes of making good white folks out of them. Acts and policies were promulgated to passive aggressively deny and paper-over their existence in the nicest, typically ineffectual Canadian way possible. The US was more honest in its approach, setting about the task of obliterating American Indians as Americans do best: with armed possies and a shitload of guns.
Given this sordid history, it’s more than politically incorrect for the would-be exterminators to misrepresent a cute “Indian” simply because a few US professional sports franchises and their millions of oblivious, adoring fans can’t imagine something less offensive as a moniker. Imagine if some rich douchebag called his baseball team the “Atlanta Honkies” and fashioned as the team mascot a bland dip-shit with a mullet, who eats Spam sandwiches on white Wonder Bread, dances like a moron with a sparkling, toothy overbite, and berates fans with racial epithets.
Well, maybe that would be funny. Can someone, anyone, come up with a slur that actually offends a white person? In any case, being an “Indian” for Halloween is offensive and lame.
Well, unless you’re trying to be a “sexy Indian”, that is, at least if this flyer in my newspaper today is to be believed. Okay, so if the costume is basically two strips of faux-leather cotton just large enough to cover the nipples and girly parts down below, you have a headband with one feather in the back, and your hair in pigtails, then you’re a “sexy Indian,” which is apparently fine because it is more slutty than racist.
But not really. The point of this costume is to brag about your body by revealing as much of it as possible without being arrested for indecency. The costume will be a testament to just how little food and how much time at the gym the person wearing it has indulged in lately.
We should applaud a woman who is confident, proud of her body, and uninhibited enough to go virtually naked in public. She should not be concerned that men will interpret the costume as an invitation, or fear that when drunk, they will feel entitled to act on the alleged invite. Those men will have to impart a little more civilization into their rape-acculturated minds so they don’t assume a woman’s titillating choice of attire is a substitute for consent. But hey, svelte ladies, if you want to strut your stuff on Halloween, do so as cat-woman, wonder woman, or Pebbles instead of Pocahontas or Sacajaweah. Deal?
The slutty genre of Halloween costume should be off the table for young girls. Girls should not be encouraged to objectify and sexualize themselves until they’re old enough to be that self-effacing. It’s appalling how many parents seem willing to tout the alleged sex appeal of their young daughters. Only the pedophiles out there appreciate the effort. Parents who send their little girls into the world looking like pole dancers and pin-up girls ought to be ashamed for the deviant sexual appetites they whet.
So here’s a challenge, avid Halloweeners: choose something fictional, tasteful, and age-appropriate as a costume. Be creative. Be a Muppet, a pirate, a character from Dr Who. Be a superhero, a gorilla, or a rooster. Just don’t be a Zulu tribesman, a Sherpa, a Geisha, a prostitute, or a slutty version of any specific creed of human being.
If your costume depicts another group of existing people you are not among, refrain. If you’re a knucklehead like me, it’s not okay to mock your own kind. It’s like extending a hall pass to bigots, who’ll feel uninhibited as they roam the cultural landscape freely airing their racist views, thanks to your active hand in reinforcing them.
Bad taste may not be illegal, but it is not in the realm of exercising your right to free speech if you choose to be a racist dip-shit in your Halloween costume. It’s actually closer to hate speech, depending on how you play it. The everyday look of people in other parts of the world isn’t the makings of a Halloween costume; it’s their clothes. The differences we exaggerate for our entertainment are rooted in traditions, cultures, and religious beliefs whose nature we can’t fully understand. These are facets of human beings not rightly lampooned just because they appear foreign, exotic, or silly to us.
A little thought will go a long way to making sure you’re not being an insensitive jackass in your choice of attire for Halloween festivities. Your presence will add to the fun and enjoyment of others this year and increase the odds the little kids watching you won’t become Archie Bunker adults, like me and my white homies of generations past.
So get out there and dress up for a brighter future!