No treat, just tricks
October 31, 2015
Halloween costumes come in all shapes and sizes: cute, scary, funny, provocative and in the eyes of some, downright offensive. It seems that every year a new Halloween costume that angers a certain group of people rolls out. Last year, the presence of people dressed as members of ISIS, Ray Rice and his girlfriend (copious amounts of black face included), and even sexy ebola nurses touched upon tricky topics in the news that year.
Halloween fanatic Macarena Barros (10) loves dressing up for the holiday. Barros’ costumes focus more on movies and television shows that she takes interest in and she dresses up as her favorite characters.
“Being able to change your identity for one night is rather exciting,” Barros said. “Once you are in your costume, it is socially acceptable to take on the role of who [or] what you are dressed up as, which is a whole lot of fun.”
On the other hand, Junior Sebastian Fernandez makes costumes depending on the items he already owns. Fernandez dressed up as the Joker from Batman one year thanks to a jacket that already fit the costume, and built the rest of the costume around it.
“[I like] Seeing people who have original costumes or costumes they made themselves, and people’s reactions when I go all out or do something unexpected,” Fernandez said.
Barros and Fernandez not only feel strongly about Halloween, but also about offensive Halloween costumes. Both of them draw the line at religious figures, sensitive topics and other ethnicities.
Caitlyn Jenner’s transition from male to female began as the average circulatory rumor and then exploded into a public discussion of transgender rights. Jenner’s appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair with long hair, a white bustier paired with white shorts and a headline reading “Call me Caitlyn” dismissed any doubts anyone had about Jenner’s gender identity. While the scenario created a large controversy, Halloween businesses kept busy making “Call me Caitlyn” costumes. Many members and supporters of the LGBTQ community took offense.
“The fact that it was a costume for men to wear, it made it look like transition was just a costume,” Fernandez said.
Although Halloween is a time to showcase creative abilities, religious figures should be off the table, Fernandez argued. He focused especially on the Prophet Muhammad, a revered Muslim figure.
“[Dressing up as] Muhammad would be very offensive, because it’s offensive to those who are Islamic. To some Muslims, it’s offensive to even draw him,” Fernandez said.
Muslims in the United States have faced many instances of religious discrimination. Many people feel that dressing up as Muhammad for a light hearted holiday such as Halloween is ignoring not only the general rule of not picturing him, but would also be making light of a serious issue.
“By dressing up as [a religious figure] you are trivializing the struggles of others,” Barros said. “Typically those who dress up as [religious figures], end up either doing so for a couple of laughs or to sexualize them.”
Even when one does not intend to reinforce a stereotype, dressing up as a specific character physically darker skinned than themselves can offend others. The usage of makeup or any other substance to darken one’s facial pigment is referred to as black face, red face or brown face; depending on whether the aim is to appear black, Native American, South Asian or Hispanic, respectively. To those painting their faces to look like Pocahontas or Nicki Minaj, it is just part of the costume, but to many people of color, it is an act of racism.
“It is not okay to use face makeup to make yourself appear darker in order to mimic someone’s skin color, even if you are doing it for your costume. That is called blackface and it is incredibly racist and demeaning, ”Barros said. “This results in further oppressing and offending minorities that have already gone through so much.”
As an actor, Fernandez takes a different approach on the use of makeup to alter one’s skin color.
“From an acting point of view, if race is an important part of the character you are portraying and you need to alter your own to become that character, then you can never accurately portray them because you don’t understand what it is like to be that race,” Fernandez said. “But that answer applies more to movies and plays. For costumes it’s offensive because [blackface] is usually used to offend.”
Black face finds its history in minstrel shows, where white actors would exaggerate their lips and paint their faces black and then continue on to reinforce the stereotypes of black people being lazy and stupid.
“It’s not usually purposefully offensive,” Fernandez said. “Since I’m white, it’s kind of hard to talk on race issues since they don’t impact me the same way they would if I was a minority.”
With all the controversy that swirls around offensive Halloween costumes, every year a new one still receives the spotlight.
“People think that they’re being funny and edgy, even though they just end up looking ignorant,” Fernandez said.