COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — Oct. 26, 2012

Jessica Iron Joseph
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Is Halloween becoming too politically correct? As a minority, naturally I will disagree. If anything, I think we’re moving towards equality when people stop to consider the outfits they are purchasing for their children or themselves.

I don’t think Halloween should ever be an occasion to wear your racism on your sleeve, announcing it to the world. Whether or not it is your intention, if you intend to “honour” a race or poke fun at it, an ill choice of costume badly reflects on you.

You would do much more to honour a race by refraining from the terribly gauche gesture of impersonating a group of people in a stereotypical manner. If you are truly interested in Indians or Asians, or Mexicans, etc. write a paper about them or get involved in things that matter to them. Even better, make an Indian or an Asian or a Mexican friend, and keep yourself open to learning all about the similarities and differences between both of your cultures.

I, for one, believe that you should practise what you preach every single day of the year, and not leave yourself a “cheat day.”

What good is being PC all year if you allow yourself or your children wiggle room to laugh and tape your eyes into slants, don prosthetics to emulate another race, or paint on blackface or brownface or yellowface? I say such examples negate and nullify every respectful effort done throughout the year. I firmly believe that such crass behaviour suggests latent and contemptible racism finally given the opportunity for exhibition.

We are not given a free pass just because of the date on the calendar. I am a Cree woman 365 days each year, and I don’t think it’s cute or funny when someone who is not an Indian decides a scanty or shoddy outfit with plastic feathers and war paint constitutes a “great outfit” one night each year. I will not excuse such thoughtless behavior.

So yes, I will be offended if I see Indian “warrior” or “princess” costumes while I take my kids trick-or-treating. I could understand a child’s ignorance, but I would definitely have some choice words for his or her parent(s), who really ought to know better.

It reminds me of a story one of my friends told me. She was at a Halloween party about 10 years ago and she happened to be the only Native in the crowd, when in walked a white girl dressed as an Indian. My friend was mortally offended. She gave the girl a scathing look and then proceeded to avoid her for the rest of the night. This was in Saskatoon, where there is a high population of visible First Nations people.

My friend was much more polite than I would have been.

I don’t think this only applies to white people though, don’t get me wrong. It would be just as racist if I saw someone of a different minority in an Indian costume.

I also realize that what my own children choose must also be politically correct. It is a responsibility I gladly assume. I am no hypocrite parent. I will explain that it is never OK to marginalize a group of people and that such costumes hurt and offend people.

To those who say I’m being overly sensitive, I say they need more sensitivity. Taking the stance that someone is incorrect to feel as they do is demeaning and condescending. It is a racist abuse of power to inform someone how and what they are allowed to feel.

I will continue to raise objections to racist Halloween costumes for as long as I or my children are exposed to “Sassy Squaw” costumes. Ditto for the costume websites that allow you to type in “Indian costumes” or “African costumes,” etc. in their search engines; immediately offering a plethora of ignorant stereotypical representations of race and culture.

If you must ask whether or not a costume is offensive, it probably is. But just to be clear, here is a handy checklist I found online, courtesy of Hampshire College in the U.S.:

• Would I be embarrassed or ashamed if someone from the group I’m portraying saw me wear this?

• Is my costume supposed to be funny? Is the humour based on making fun of real people, traits or cultures?

• Does my costume represent a culture that is not my own?

• Does my costume reduce cultural differences to jokes or stereotypes?

• Does my costume packaging include the words “traditional,” “ethnic,” “colonial,” “cultural,” “authentic” or “tribal”?

Does my costume perpetuate stereotypes, misinformation, or historical or cultural inaccuracies?

If you only just realized your outfit is offensive, or your child’s outfit is offensive, don’t worry. It’s not too late to correct your actions. There are still several days left until Halloween to get a different outfit. Please join me this year (and every year), and say “Boo” to racist Halloween costumes!

Organizations: Hampshire College, First Nations

Geographic location: Saskatoon, U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Kay
    October 26, 2012 - 15:02

    Excellent column!