Op-Ed | Why you should dress up as Harry Potter, and not Cho Chang, for Halloween
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013 01:10
Racially and culturally insensitive Halloween costumes have become a ubiquitous presence in the United States, and Tufts is in no way an exception. For many members of marginalized communities, Halloween has become a moment in which to prepare ourselves for insensitive and willfully ignorant portrayals of ourselves and our communities as stereotypes and simplistic, violent images. This costumed appropriation of culture, race and identity causes a kind of psychological violence when you see someone wearing you as a costume. As we approach Halloween, I write this in hopes of engaging all members of our community in a dialogue on representation, violence and empathy.
The issue at the heart of this contention is cultural appropriation — members of seemingly privileged groups taking cultural practices or artifacts from marginalized groups and using them for their own benefit or enjoyment. When one appropriates from another culture he essentializes it, removes its nuances and constructs a false representation. Most people wouldn’t think to go out dressed in blackface or as a “terrorist,” but they might overlook other stereotypical costumes that are deeply hurtful to many members of our campus. These images also justify physical and institutional violence against people of color.
Last year, two such events stood out. The first occurred at the Latino Culture House when a student who had never interacted with any of the house members approached La Casa and rang the doorbell to borrow a sombrero for his Halloween costume. The members of the house were hurt, confused and angry. Why did this student feel that a house full of Latino students — students from a wide variety of countries and cultures -— would own a piece of stereotypical Mexican headgear? Why did this student feel entitled to dress up as a stereotype of a Mexican? Beyond the obvious — that national, cultural and racial identities are not costumes — the issue is also one of essentializing. “Mexican” is an extremely diverse culture and reducing that identity to a sombrero is hurtful on an interpersonal level, as well as violent on a state level.
Similarly, on a past Halloween, a pair of white male students walked around wearing sombreros, mustaches and ponchos while speaking with a “Spanish accent” — adding “o’s” and “-ita’s” to the end of English words. When I approached these students, not only did they deny that their costumes were inappropriate, but they insisted that I — a Latino man — was in fact racist for assuming they were portraying Mexican Americans.
I ask that we work together to make this holiday a time when everyone can enjoy themselves equally. Last year a fraternity posted the phrase, “Last weekend could not have possibly satiated your appetite for culturally-accepted representations of innumerable stereotypes, so let’s have another go!” on one of their Facebook events. That sort of language condones the use of prejudicial representations of culture and sends a clear message of who is welcome and accepted at their party.
Halloween is not the one time of year that you get to play dress-up in someone else’s life. My culture is not your costume.
In this vein, I have comprised a list of dos and don’ts for this Halloween.
Don’t: depict yourself as a Native American by wearing headdresses, feathers or war paint; dress in a sombrero, mustache and poncho; go out as a Geisha or Ninja; dress up as “ghetto” or a “pimp” or dress up as characters that were created based on stereotypes like “Pocahontas” and “Aladdin.”
Andrew’s list of approved costumes: ladybug, sexy carrot, pumpkin spiced latte, Jumbo in a peanut jar and the Government Shutdown.