Oct 27, 201711:29 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
A Very Fraught Halloween
Where do we draw the line on what costumes are offensive
I am kind of a hippie. I’ll admit that up front. My kids were cloth-diapered, breastfed on demand, and worn in a sling. I love kale and long, loose skirts. I like bergamot oil and baking my own bread, and I’ve done a sage-smudging of my apartment before.
I’m also what many people might term a “snowflake” and what I would call a “person with a conscience who is trying to not be shitty to other people”: I don’t find racist or sexist jokes funny; I think using “politically correct” language is basic human decency; I strive to understand other viewpoints and be as inclusive as possible; I’ve walked out of at least two comedy shows because the comedian made rape jokes or homophobic comments.
But of course, I have my limits. I like to do things the natural way, sure, but I also get my kids vaccinated, give them antibiotics, and let them eat M&Ms and Happy Meals. And although I do understand this perspective, if either of my kids wanted to be Moana for Halloween, I’d let them. I also would let either of them be Tiana without so much as a second thought. (In fact, seven years ago, although Ruby was a mean tree, I was inspired by the fact that her school’s costume party featured a white Cinderella, a black Snow White, and both black and white Tianas.)
Although I am willing to admit when I’m wrong – and I am open to other perspectives on this, truly – I just can’t see telling my kids they couldn’t be something for Halloween because they’re the wrong race. And at the point where you're wavering between whether the Elsa costume perpetuates white privilege or the Moana costume is cultural appropriation, maybe you should realize you're overthinking things and you should just let your kid wear what she wants for a night. (Obviously, blackface is gross and never necessary, but Tiana’s dress and crown or Moana’s outfit with a flower behind the ear would be easily recognizable.)
To my mind, a costume that actually represents a character – Tiana, Moana, Lilo – or a person – Ruby wanted to be Frida Kahlo a few years ago, and I was on board until she changed her mind and decided to go as the Flame Princess – of a different race than your own is OK. A costume that represents a culture different from your own or a caricature – a Mexican, an Indian, a rapper in blackface (and yes, I’ve seen white people wearing all of these) – is not OK. It also makes a difference if you’re dressing up out of admiration vs. to mock a different culture or play into a stereotype. No, good intentions do not excuse bad behavior, but intention definitely still matters.
I want to encourage my kids to have diverse heroes from all kinds of cultural backgrounds, and while I’m not saying I don’t see color (because that’s not true, nor is it even a goal – we should notice and celebrate diversity), if my kids identify with or admire a character or a person enough to want to dress up like them, I don’t want to shut that down. I don’t even know how to shut it down without sounding like a jerk or inadvertently sending the wrong message, making them think there is something wrong about dressing up like a black princess or a Mexican artist.
This is not to say we don’t talk about race, racism, sexism, privilege, stereotypes. We do, often.
It’s just that, to me, this particular battle is not a key part of the war – and may even be actually working against us.
Georgia’s camp production of Cinderella featured a couple of white Cinderellas, a couple of black Cinderellas, and Georgia herself as Prince Charming (even though there were boys in the cast). I thought it was adorable, and no one batted an eye at anything beyond how cute and talented and perfect all of the kids were.
That’s how it should be at Halloween.
I am, as always, willing to hear a different perspective in the comments.