Halloween Costumes, Not Halloween Skinsuits
By: Madona Lucine
I’ve been aware of the controversial nature of certain Halloween costumes since just such a controversy erupted at Yale three years ago. You remember that, yes? The controversy that began with an email and ended with two members of the Yale faculty resigning during the ensuing media storm? I will confess to a sizeable amount of blissful oblivion regarding Halloween costumes, because until I had kids Halloween wasn’t a holiday on my radar. I didn’t attend costume parties during college, so the controversies surrounding blackface and beer pong orgies without consenting young women wasn’t on my radar, either. Oh, those didn’t occur? Surely they did – we live in a rape culture, after all…
I will also profess ignorance of the online “mommy” community to a limited degree. Since I generally eschew overhyped groups of the sort that populate social media, I never bothered to sign up after my first child was born. Given the saturation of “mommy” blogs, however, I can’t completely avoid them, and even find them useful, in a way, when I’m trying to figure out what mothers immersed in our current popular culture are talking about.
To say that I’m disappointed by these mothers’ superficiality is the understatement of the last decade. Hell, it’s an indictment of my generation.
Let’s take, for instance, a post that recently appeared on the corporately-owned Scary Mommy site, called PSA: Don’t Let Your Kids Dress Up In These Costumes. The post’s author, a mom who adopted four children, discusses the reasons why kids of one skin color shouldn’t wear Halloween costumes which represent fictional characters of another skin color. Yes, you read that right.
Since this controversy has now entered its third year, at least by my reckoning, the arguments urging me to avoid cultural appropriation in my children’s choice of Halloween costume haven’t gotten any smarter. Matter of fact, they’re not only rehashes of the original claim, which was stupid and racist to begin with – they are stupider. I’d even go so far as to say that the claimants’ attempts to kill as many of my brain cells as possible with their justifications have collectively approached their peak.
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/large-majorities-dislike-political-correctness/572581/ in The Atlantic points out that progressive activists of the type that would be most enthusiastic about cultural appropriation tend to be “rich, highly educated, and white.” So too, it seems, is Rachel Garlinghouse, the author of the Scary Mommy post; her four adopted children, ironically, are black. So when she says she’s okay with one of her children dressing in Halloween costumes from “The Black Panther,” I suppose it’s understandable why she’d feel this is appropriate. What’s inappropriate is a “rich, highly educated, and white” mother telling any other mother why adopting traits from another culture is bad.
Let me count the ways why her reasoning is bad. Wakanda, the land inhabited by T’Challa (aka Black Panther) and his people, is a made-up African country. However, Wakanda has all the hallmarks of African culture and magnifies a historical depth that isn’t present in most other superhero films.
… So while my seven-year-old daughter will proudly portray Black Panther this Halloween, I don’t think the white kid sitting next to her in class should. For the same reasons why a child not of Polynesian descent should not dress up as Moana.
I’m scratching my head here. Are you?
She’s okay with her child donning the Black Panther suit because A) her child is black, B) Black Panther is black, therefore C) her black child can don the costume. However, her child’s classmate is white, Black Panther is black, and therefore her child’s white classmate can’t be the Black Panther for Halloween. It’s the misappropriation of another person’s culture…even though she’s using the classmate’s skin color as her justification for why a white child couldn’t possibly be immersed in black culture. Every white-looking rapper out there, especially Eminem, call yo crib.
I don’t know if the concepts of skin color and culture are deliberately confused on Ms. Garlinghouse’s part, although I suspect it’s not done willfully. [They’re confused in schools starting in elementary. When they asked for an essay on the family’s culture and older son wrote about geeks and scifi cons, he got slapped with how it was supposed to be about where his ancestors came from. That got a letter from me and… it got ugly before I threatened them with showing the corrections this idiotic teacher was making on my son — by then a professionally published author — ‘s papers. But yeah, the left confuses genes with culture. Just like the alt-right the ctrl-left is daft that way- SAH] Every social treatise I’ve read over the last three or four years on the subject of cultural appropriation has been put forward by an earnest (white) progressive on behalf of the poor, non-white, uneducated schlubs who’ve never set foot in the Hamptons (see, everybody, I can stereotype with the best of them!). Sure, they’re not steeped in the cultures their parents left behind when they immigrated to this country. Of course they wouldn’t appreciate a fair-skinned, blonde and blue-eyed child dressing as Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia in “The Black Panther” for Halloween. Noooo, a white boy cannot be Maui from Disney’s “Moana,” because only Polynesian demi-gods can have oily, frizzy manes and tattoos covering every inch of skin and screw up everything, which is why some not-a-princess has to save the day.
Of course not. The earnest progressive is nothing if not omniscient and proficiently knowledgeable in the cultural histories and traditions of the post-colonial, non-European peoples they promote in the West these days. [They’re not really knowledgeable of any culture beyond Germany and Scandinavia, and a little of England and Italy at the most stereotypical level. TRUST me hon, I deal with this a lot – SAH]
Laid it on too thick for you? Then let’s talk about the reality of this ongoing farce.
I wish these progressive types would at least acknowledge that cultures which are not appropriated by society at large eventually cease to exist – as in, no trace of them can be found on the planet. They are not remembered fondly by anyone, because they’re not remembered, period. Your random Amazonian Indian tribe hidden from the modern wonders of the twenty-first century will remain hidden for good reason. Additionally, lamenting the misdeeds of the European colonizers who are still remembered and memorialized by everyone, even the grudging progressive, does nothing to further the non-white cultures whose contributions to society are only known because they were appropriated in the first place. And let’s not even mention that humanity being fruitful and multiplying was the death-knell of the claim that any culture would remain ethnically pure or insulated from the influence of other cultures.
But what does any of this have to do with Halloween costumes? you ask.
If the smallest minority is truly the individual, it’s astonishingly insulting for Ms. Garlinghouse to lecture me or any other parent on the Halloween costumes their children are allowed to wear due to, ahem, “cultural misunderstandings.” I certainly didn’t miss how Garlinghouse’s article was couched to appear as well-meaning recommendations, which is the mommy blogger MO, as far as I can tell. Provide suggestions I never asked for, because you have the platform on which to publicize those suggestions and be paid for it.
On this platform, might I make a suggestion of my own, Ms. Garlinghouse?
Speak for yourself. Your suggestions for the appropriate Halloween attire, in the context of your kids and their skin color and yours and what’s currently popular in American culture, mean nothing to me. Zilch. Nada. Oops, just appropriated a Spanish word there. Bad me.
This Halloween, my kids will be dressing up, respectively, as Disney’s version of Rapunzel and the Queen of Hearts. My children look nothing like either of these characters, although I giggle at the thought of my oldest yelling “Off with her head!” every other sentence. In the day and age where other parents are willing to give their kids space to express their preferred gender pronouns, I consider allowing my kids to dress as whatever they want to be for Halloween, especially if it’s a character of another race or whatever, to be a small thing. An extremely small thing. I have nothing against your kids dressing as the female Black Panther or a Disney princess who isn’t Pocahontas. Nothing whatsoever.
Allow me the same courtesy of not caring about whether or not your children’s Halloween costumes are culturally appropriate to the situation.
And if you can’t do that, remember that I’m not one of the people who decided to turn this molehill into a mountain. I hope and pray you’re prepared to proverbially die on it.