Originally Published: October, 2014
(Trigger Warning: Stuff)
Like most people, I love Halloween. There's nothing like setting aside a day to mark the ascendance of fall and inclusively honor the religious, Celtic and pagan roots of All Hallow's Eve. Unlike most people, however, I approach Halloween with an eye firmly on prevention, as I'm aware of the dangers posed by this particular holiday and want to make sure I avoid them at all costs. Now when I say that I worry about dangers I don't mean the physical kind. I'm talking about something much more insidious. I'm talking about the dangers of being socially unjust.
Halloween, more than almost any other holiday, can leave even the most vigilant man, woman, transgender or femme-identifying genderfluid demisexual open to the scourge of cultural appropriation. You've probably already reconsidered giving your trick-or-treaters sweets from "Big Candy" in favor of tofu sticks, kale chips and fair-trade chocolate, but what about you? What about your costume? Even inadvertently, what you choose to dress as for Halloween can lead to a holiday that's, I'm sorry to say, deeply problematic.
Last Saturday my female life partner and I attended a super-cool full dress-up Halloween hacky sack competition in Golden Gate park and it was there that I began to realize the perilous implications of poor Halloween costuming judgment. Even in a city as evolved as San Fran, there were children dressed as "Indians," "Belly Dancers," and "Ghosts."
It's shocking that this kind of racist, sexist and substantialist appropriation still goes on in this country, but it's the responsibility of each of us to put a stop to it. Because as you know the only way to achieve the just society we as liberals should be striving for is to browbeat the world until it gives in simply because it's tired of hearing us complain. Also, #Hashtags. #YesAllHashtags. Let's face it, our cause is too important to go about this rationally and constructively.
Maybe you've already chosen your costume for Friday, but if you haven't (or even if you have and feel that you need to reconsider) my dudebro colleagues at the otherwise risible Daily Banter have allowed me to put together a couple of tips designed to help you have a socially just and cultural appropriation-free Halloween. Here's what to do and what not to do if you want to party without oppressing others and definitely if you don't want to spend Saturday reading a long-winded column in Jezebel excoriating you by name. Please make a note of them.
1. As stated above, obviously, keep away from costumes that depict Native American culture, even if your intentions are benign and your goal is to honor a specific figure from history like Pocahontas. This is direct cultural appropriation and those figures aren't yours to honor. If your child plays "cowboys and indians" and wishes to extend that to his Halloween costume, give that child a stern lecture on the violent subjugation of indigenous peoples by European, Judeo-Christian trespassers and send him to his room for a week.
2. Under no circumstances should you dress like a pirate as pirates have throughout history been associated with rape and could be considered not only symbols of rape culture but the very progenitors of it. It's also ableist appropriation to wear an eye-patch. You're not really blind.
3. Dressing as a ghost is out as it is a clear expression of white privilege.
4. While costuming yourself or your child as a Disney Princess is on its own a disturbing representation of patriarchal sexual oppression and a reflection of society's unrelenting demands on women, often leading to body image issues, if your daughter or transgender child absolutely must be a Disney Princess at least ensure that her proportions are exaggerated. A realistic waistline looks fabulous. By the way, that Elsa costume from Frozen? That tells the world that global warming isn't real.
5. Not only are witches actual people rather than the caricatures depicted at costume shops, they've led lives of adversity throughout history, therefore their identity is not yours to conscript in the name of your Halloween fun. Also, seeing you or your child dressed as a witch could be triggering for real witches or those who practice Wicca. Best steer clear.
6. Don't even think about walking around your neighborhood or going to that Halloween party as a police officer or a U.S. soldier, Marine, sailor or airman, as they are representatives of the police state and military industrial complex, respectively. When you wear a pretend badge and uniform, you unwittingly condone racist police tactics like stop-and-frisk and the shooting of unarmed black men. When you're a member of the military, you're okay with baby-killing drones.
7. Don't be a zombie because it's alive-ist or a vampire because it can trigger hemophiliacs. Something, something agency.
You know, as I write these it dawns on me that really there's nothing you can be that doesn't in some way have the potential to be oppressive or offensive to someone. The truth is we never can tell what will be triggering for whom and therefore maybe, in the name of maintaining absolute purity in our social justice, it's best if each of us does nothing at all this Halloween. Who's to say if you dress as a garbage collector you may not come across someone whose loved one was run over by a garbage truck or if you dress as a giant cereal box someone you greet won't be going gluten-free. The only way to be sure is to stay indoors then, to lock your door and turn the lights off and sit in absolute silence so that you don't come into contact with anyone who might be psychically damaged by your actions.
See you all again on Saturday -- maybe. Happy Halloween.
Oh, and don't even think about carving up that pumpkin. Vegetables can feel pain, you know.