When does a Halloween costume become racist?


Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, a Celtic tradition with Pagan and Christian roots, comes the day before All Souls Day, Nov. 1. The belief was that the supernatural world was very active at this time and to ward of any evil energy certain rituals had to be observed for human protection.

Yet, whatever spirituality the tradition had been invested with has become, at this time, just another reason to party. As with the way Christmas is observed in modern times, Halloween has been distanced from its original meaning and silliness has taken over.

We all like to have fun.

However, just like clockwork every October 31, some Halloween-er gets the idea to costume himself in something referencing Black people that, without fail, becomes something ranging from distasteful to absolutely offensive, or even worse, racist.

It was only last Halloween that, in Campbellford, Ontario, two men showed up at a Halloween party at the local legion hall, one wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and the other, in blackface, with a noose around his neck. Not grasping the absolute offensiveness of this choice, the judges at that event gave the pair the prize for best costume.

There are just so many layers to that disturbing decision.

Making his way to receiving the ‘What was he thinking?’ Halloween prize this year is Phoenix Coyotes left-winger, Raffi Torres, formerly of the Vancouver Canucks. At a weekend Halloween party, Torres and his wife showed up wearing brown face paint as part of their Jay-Z and Beyoncé costume. Torres, who is of Mexican heritage and is not White has been taking a lot of criticism for his choice.

But, for the most part, the criticism has come from people who think Torres is being unfairly targeted. Those who think his Halloween costume was a poor choice are being called ‘too sensitive’ and ‘too politically correct’ and that those who are offended should just ‘get over it’.

So where do we draw the line?

There is a reason for the sensitivity; it is not without context. The fact is there will be a visceral pulling away from people who decide to present any kind of Halloween costume or costumery for any other occasion that evokes the era of blackface performers – regardless of the person’s expressed non-racist intent.

The attempt to shrug it off is an attempt to ignore how that thread weaves its way into our day-to-day existence. Part of the problem with racism as it plays out in its many forms is that it is both pervasive and not always overt. But it is there. It is there in the moment when a Black person or any other person feels a discomfort and asks: ‘was that what I thought it was, or felt it was?’

We know that most Black people aren’t looking for acts of racism; in fact the pain of it is such that we want to believe it is not happening. Pairing with that is a mass of people who are not Black who also want to look the other way. It can be a disorienting transaction.

So Torres’ costume was not a KKK hood accompanied by someone in blackface with a noose around his neck, but it has caused enough of a stir to add to the debate. One man’s tribute to a rap star becomes another’s questionable choice. People who like to dress up in costumes will continue to go this route, but they should then be expected to face the kind of reaction that it will generate.

So you get a little racial debate with your Halloween candy. It’s funny how a quasi-religious tradition out of Ireland has become drawn into the issue of racism. Yet another example of how much work needs to be done as we try to overcome half a millennium of abuse and exploitation based on skin colour.

A note on social engineering…

At the same time that the Harper government is pushing through on plans to build more prisons, it is also doing away with the long gun registry, and this despite the concerns of police chiefs all across the country. But then, there seems a logical connection between ending the gun registry and building more prisons, doesn’t it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>