I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe it’s time to chill out with Halloween, or the “secular Purim” as we Jews call it.
Personally, I love all festivities that involve dressing up and getting creative and weird, but I’ve been disturbed of late that the costume trend has gotten both more and more frighteningly macabre, cookie-cutter “sexy,” and racist at the same time.
What happened to homemade costumes and face paint?(I ask, grumpily). We really don’t need overly sexualized costumes for young girls like the recently pulled-from-shelves “naughty leopard” costume, nor do we need to make fun of the mentaly ill or eating disordered, as some hastily-retracted store-bought costumes have done
But the worst offender of all these trends is the annual resurfacing of racist costumes, whether it’s pre-packaged outfits that trivialize Native Americans or Asian women — ”We’re a culture, not a costume,” the PSA about these outfits declares — or the pernicious plague of blackface.
This year, an extremely disturbing interation of that trend, a photo that circulated of two white dudes dressing up as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman for Halloween sparked another round of strong responses declaring that blackface Halloween costumes are not okay, ever
Brittney Cooper laid it down in her column at Salon:
When white folks paint their bodies black, they demonstrate that they see the black body as a permissive site for the expression of trauma, pain and illicit pleasures. In other words, being in a black body permits them to do everything they are uncomfortable doing in a white body: being lewd and crude, celebrating violence, acting sexually promiscuous, using racial slurs.
Cooper’s piece speaks to the spirit of Halloween that calls on masqueraders to cross boundaries, gender-bend, play with other identities. This is subversive and fun, but not when it takes the form of bullying or flaunting one’s privilege. Really what’s so subversive and transgressive about dressing up as an oppressed or minority group, mocking others’ pain, and cultural identification? I know that I’d feel deeply uncomfortable with non-Jews dressing up as Hasidim for the holiday (and I’m sure those costumes show up in plenty of places) without any context.
Sometimes, the underbelly of American culture that this holiday reveals is so awful that my usual pleasure in sparkles and spiderwebs and and homemade brilliance isn’t enough to make me enjoy the 31st.