is one of America’s favorite yearly activities. Unfortunately,
Halloween can be America’s scariest, too-especially for those
of us seen as costumes you wear rather than the human beings that we
Americans, Native Americans, blacks, Muslim women in burqas, hijabs,
and Muslim men in turbans with beards, are frequent targets of
race-themed costumes. Whites donning blackface was a commonly
accepted misbehavior that dates back long before it was disclosed in
2019 that the present Virginia governor, Ralph Northam, once went in
blackface as Michael Jackson in the 1980s.
anti-immigration sentiment toward Mexicans evident with the mass
shooting in El Paso, there will be some Halloween revelers mocking
this racial group. However, those not intended to mock or mimic yet
dress up in Mexican serape and hat or the “Little Mexican Amigo
Toddler Costume” sold on Amazon will also hit racial landmines.
are a country that doesn’t want to confront race. Halloween, an
activity that’s masked with tricks and treats and playful
mischief, ironically unmasks the face of America’s troubled
history with race.
hard not to make the connection with contemporary topics, themes, and
people trending in news and culture to Halloween costumes worn that
year. For example, a year after Trayvon Martin’s murder, a rash
of Trayvon Martin Halloween costumes appeared with white people
wearing hoodies, carrying Skittles, and sporting gunshot wounds. That
same year, in 2013, Julianne Hough, a judge on ABC’s “Dancing
with the Stars,” wore blackface as her favorite character Crazy
Eyes in the Netflix hit “Orange Is the New Black” for
Halloween. Award-winning Nigerian American actress Uzo Aduba portrays
the character Crazy Eyes.
2019, we saw Halloween decorations of lynching across the country. In
Chesapeake, Virginia, a figure was found wrapped in black trash bags
hanging from a tree. In Brooklyn, a Halloween decoration displayed
children hanging from nooses. Sadly, the display was across the
street from an elementary school. Here in Andover that year, just a
30-minute drive from my home in Cambridge, a McDonald’s
apologized for a Halloween decoration displaying a person hanging
from a tree by the neck. Even with the best intentions, Halloween
hangings depicting the act of lynching ought not to bring joy nor
laughter -- whether intended to cause harm or not.
present-day fight is to pass legislation to make the act of lynching
a federal hate crime in this century. The horrific act of lynching is
a form of domestic terrorism and social control.
example, Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African American male teen
lynched in the Mississippi Delta in the summer of 1955, became this
nation’s iconic image of the cowardly acts of white supremacist
terrorism. In 2018 the National Memorial for Peace and Justice,
informally known as the National Lynching Memorial, opened to
commemorate the thousands of recorded black bodies lynched in the
18th and 19th centuries.
this racial climate of a resurgence of white nationalism and
political polarization, it was not hard to connect former President
Trump's comments about lynching to some of the lynching-themed
Halloween decorations that popped up across the country during his
tenure. Trump's use of the racial trope essentializes and erases the
particular history and context of black struggle in America. But
Trump is gone. And, the lynching of people of color goes back
hundreds of years.
feel Halloween no longer brings joy and laughter in a “woke”
culture where the tyranny of political correctness and identity
politics police behavior. However, if you feel you’re rocking
your Halloween outfit instead of mocking an ethnic group or cultural
practice, please keep these thoughts in mind: wearing the traditional
clothing of another culture is not a costume. Donning blackface is
not a mask. Dressing as a homeless person isn’t funny. Adopting
someone else’s dialect for the evening is not cool. Purchasing
the “Disguise Women’s Dragon Geisha Costume” from
Amazon is not okay.
is a Celtic festival. People lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward
off ghosts. We can do the same without dredging up the ghosts of