HONOR OUR ANCESTORS ON HALLOWEEN

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Submitted Date 10/24/2018
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When it comes to Halloween costumes, what is considered racist or inappropriate?

Years ago, I met a woman who was active in the fight against human trafficking. She pleaded with me and other people that attended a workshop to tell people to not dress up as a pimp on Halloween. Dressing up as a pimp glamorizes the sexual exploitation of women, men, and children. The lesson is people need to be socially responsible when choosing a Halloween costume.

American journalist Megyn Kelly sparked a debate on this issue while discussing a university’s guidelines on acceptable Halloween costumes, and questioned why blackface was offensive to people. Kelly has since apologized for doing so.

From my knowledge of Catholicism, Halloween originated from a day when people honored  and showed respect for the dead. How did it become offensive? 

History of Blackface

By looking at the history of blackface in America, you know that it is offensive to imitate African Americans. Why? Blackface was a discriminatory tool used in the entertainment industry to represent African American characters in an offensive way by exaggerating stereotypical features.

Indeed, as Late Night’s Amber Ruffin points out there is NOT a day that blackface is NOT offensive.

She went on to stress that "it ignores the severely racist context in which blackface was introduced into this country, and actions don’t exist separate from their context.”

Blackface is a manifestation of racism that people should be held strictly liable for today. Blackface cannot exist today in a manner distinct from its discriminatory nature when it was initially introduced in the entertainment industry. 

Blackface Today

Now, let’s look at the other side of the story. According to Kelly, "back when [she] was a kid, [wearing blackface] was okay just as long as you were dressing as a character." There is obviously a discrepancy regarding whether blackface has always been offensive. Once again, I am asking Why?

I think it all comes down to education, and cultural sensitivity to people from all backgrounds.

Now, I am going to tell you about my experience with blackface. I went to a party with people I knew for less than 24 hours. You should know that I was not in the United States; I was in Thailand. 

A group of people (which included a mix of Westerners and Thai people) put on a show about a man who changes his appearance by learning English. Before he learned English, he was wearing blackface along with an afro wig. Then, after stepping through a door which represented learning English, he became white.

I remember a lot of people in the crowd getting upset. As for me, I tried not to rush to judgment, but it seemed crazy that people would be so outright racist. Though shocked, I hoped there was a logical explanation. There was not.

Here it goes though! In Thailand, there is a traditional story that incorporates blackface which some Thai people thought justified their use of blackface; however racist we thought it was. Over the year and a half that I lived in Thailand, I learned the system of classism and racism promotes a whitening mindset in which men and women strive to become whiter and whiter through skin products and cosmetic procedures.

I learned blackface is racist not just in the United States but in Thailand too. The Thai people I talked to listened to my thoughts of blackface. I could not convince everyone that blackface was offensive and racist, but I think I got through to a few people. However small, progress happens by talking openly, respectfully, and changing the mindset one by one. No one listens when they feel like they are getting attacked, however wrong they may be. 

What is the Solution? 

Be mindful on Halloween of the history of a costume and your own intent in wearing it.

Be mindful that some people do not intentionally offend but perhaps ignorantly do. While such action is offensive like in the instance of blackfash, I believe maintaining a dialogue is important in society so that more people can be given the chance to be better. Otherwise, in a war, only one side wins or perhaps no one wins. 

This conversation begins in our homes and in the classrooms. As we get older, it continues with our peers and colleagues. It manifests itself face to face and on social media.

The next time you want to wear a Halloween costume, think about why you want to wear it and take the time to think if it would offend anyone.

Think before you do. And think before you speak. 

Be mindful of manners and crossing the line, as Melissa Rivers and Jenna Bush suggested while they were discussing this topic with Meghan Kelly this week.

And remember the spirit of Halloween. It was meant as a day to honor the dead and pray for them. In the true spirit of Halloween, honor those that you dress up as and honor their ancestors. 


Photo by Simeon Muller on Unsplash


References:

Denise Petski. October 24, 2018. ‘Late Night’s Amber Ruffin Explains To Megyn Kelly Why Blackface is Racist’. https://deadline.com/2018/10/late-nights-amber-ruffin-explains-to-megyn-kelly-why-blackface-is-racist-1202488519/

Rannard, Georgina. October 23, 2018. “Journalist Megyn Kelly criticized for blackface comments” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45958483

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