How about a Halloween racism check -- do any of the following four images strike you as a racist way for a white person to celebrate Halloween? If so, would you make an effort to point that out to such white celebrants?
Each of these images includes white people celebrating Halloween by connecting with other races. Or rather, with their own ideas of other races. Of course, the photo with the Obama pumpkin would seem entirely non-racist to most Americans [edit: and I would say that I agree]. That's because it's the only one where white people aren't dressed up as people of other races.
So among the other three photos above of various white folks in racial drag, is any one of them more racist than the other two (assuming you think that any of them are racist)?
I would bet that for most white Americans, the image of the three blackened white boys seems most immediately wrong. And for some, the only one that's wrong. That one is pretty widely recognizable as an example of the old-fashioned, denigrated entertainment practice of "blackface." That thing that got Ted Danson in trouble back in the day, during . . . what was it?
Oh right, a celebrity roast, for Whoopi Goldberg:
Friars Club Roast (1993)
Friars Club Roast (1993)
If the other two get-ups depicted above -- the "Indian Brave" and the "Geisha" -- don't seem as racist to a lot of white people as the one depicting blackface "wiggers," why is that? Why is it that blackface is more clearly wrong, while redface or yellowface are okay, or else, not as wrong?
The controversial costume making the rounds this year is this one, the "illegal alien" -- does it avoid being a racist caricature because it doesn't actually depict a human being?
Isn't that clever? And look, he has a green card! But, wait -- so he's not "illegal"?
After receiving complaints about this costume, major retailer Target has stopped selling it. Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, calls it “distasteful, mean-spirited, and ignorant of social stigmas and current debate on immigration reform.”
On the other hand, according to CNN,
William Gheen, the president of Americans for Legal Immigration, said he intends to buy the costume, and calls the reaction unfounded.
"The only people getting upset are the hyper-sensitive, over-politically correct, pro-amnesty, illegal alien-supporting nuts," said Gheen. "You can't attack people's freedom in this country."
What about Halloween parties that have racial themes? Do you think those are wrong? Like the "ghetto fabulous" or "tacos and tequila" parties that occur on college campuses? And in people's living rooms?
It's been my experience that when white folks are questioned about such Halloween choices, they usually brush off any allegations of racism with the claim that it's all just good, harmless fun. The implication is that they don't intend to be racist, and therefore, they're not. Never mind any actual effects of their actions.
But if those are "all in good fun," then how about a houseful of white folks throwing something called a "lynching party"? Would that be any different, or worse?
Actually, I wonder if that's what these young good ol' boys at Auburn University called this Halloween party:
So what do you think? Where do you draw the line on these things?
If you see anyone dressed up like a stereotype this Halloween, do you plan to say anything to them?
If you do encounter costumes or situations that conjure up racist stereotypes, you might recall the words of Guillermo Iglesias, whose parents were illegal immigrants in the U.S. Iglesias said he finds the "illegal alien" costume above offensive because it depicts illegal immigrants as "not one of us."
"I have a lot of illegal immigrant friends," said Iglesias. "If I showed them that costume, it would really hurt them."
So finally, if you're white, I have a suggestion. Aside from resisting any temptation you might have to somehow dress up like a member of another race or ethnic group -- and thereby perpetuating stereotypes and running the risk of hurting other people -- how would the following idea work for you?
If you meet a white friend or acquaintance who's dressed up that way, you could say this to them: "Wow, what a concept! Where'd you get the idea of dressing up like a racist dipshit?"
[Unfortunately, a Halloween post of this sort might become an annual tradition here, as it is at other anti-racism blogs. An earlier version of the post above appeared here.]