Halloween 2017 a repeat of retailers selling insulting, racist costumes

Party City has a full line of stereotypical costumes depicting Indigenous people. (Image via partycity.com)
Party City has a full line of stereotypical costumes depicting Indigenous people. (Image via partycity.com)

Halloween has traditionally been known for frightening children, candy-induced stomach aches and shards of broken pumpkins, smashed by teenagers, decorating the city streets.

But recently and especially for high-school and university students, the holiday is becoming a time for oblivious partygoers to feature their insulting costumes over social media and the debate that follows.

Whether the particular outfit intends to represent a cartoon version of an Indigenous person, a white-powder-faced geisha, or any prominent figure who happens to be black, made true to form with black face paint, year after year we’re presented with the same offensive costumes, as if the social media storm that happened previously did not sway this year’s trick-or-treaters from choosing the same get up.

Last year, a party at Queens University in Kingston, Ont. showcased a wide variety of the world’s cultures, modelled by students. Monks, straw-hatted Asians with plastic machine guns, Mexican wrestlers and Arab sheikhs were a few of the ensembles on display. After Vice broke the story, Macleans, The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail followed, with photos of the participants put on public display.

Thanks to PartyCity.com, however, the same public humiliation will likely greet another batch of young adults this Halloween season. For just $24.99, mocking Indigenous people is easy with the “Native American Black Braids Wig”. One can also sport “Brown Fringe Leg Warmers,” a bow and arrow and “Native American Tomahawk,” to look fiercely out of touch with prevailing social standards.

Party City also offers their products to those not old enough to make an informed and sensitive choice on matters of cultural appropriation. They can facilitate axe and tomahawk swinging caricatures for babies, toddlers and a “Native American Dress” for pre-teen girls.

This year, HalloweenCostumes.com decided to pull an Anne Frank costume from their selection. The Toronto Star reported that Carlos Galindo-Elvira of the Anti-Defamation League said the costume trivializes the memory of the young girl, who became famous after being murdered in the Holocaust through the publication of her diary.

To meet the apparent need to instill a sense of “those people live among us, actually,” Brock University’s Students’ Union in St. Catharines, Ont. developed a protocol, last year, to help their students not to offend anyone during Halloween festivities.

The intension was “communicating to students on what is not acceptable, encourage students to be mindful of their costume choices and prevent offensive representations of our friends, family members and co-workers from permeating our spaces in an oppressive and offensive way.”

The union said in the protocol that they did not want to tell people what to wear but simply wanted to “pay respect” to the students who fund their union who are members of ethnic, cultural and national groups, who may end up being the butt of a joke.

The Toronto District School Board and Conseil scolaire Viamonde, a French school board in Ontario, also provided instructions to their employees about the need for heightened cultural literacy and instructions on how to help prevent Halloween-related incidents of racism in the classroom. 

It is not only race, culture and icons that can be turned into a joke at Halloween. Included in the Brock University protocol is a warning against how a transgendered person may react to someone dressing up as the opposite sex, or Caitlyn Jenner.

Also on the sexual front, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein or any other sex crime being represented by a costume will probably not be found hilarious by a victim of sexual assault.

The controversy surrounding our shared, mid-autumn pagan ritual is not just about racism, but also freedom. There are many who consider accusations of cultural insensitivity merely political correctness and tantamount to the thought police run amok.

You may embarrass yourself or lose friends if you are exposed via social media wearing face paint and a feather in your hair. But while the real police arrest you, the thought police will just humiliate you. If you don’t want humiliation, have humility and pick a costume that does more than reflect your social circle.
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