I love Halloween.
This is a fact that is hardly surprising to people who know me, and isn't really that remarkable amongst people my age, anyway. I mean, who doesn't like Halloween? It's an excuse to get together with a bunch of your friends and wear funny clothes and costumes. Oh, and candy.
Plus, you get to tell ghost stories and watch horror movies, and, really, the whole thing becomes a socially sanctioned day of getting to play dress-up and make-believe, and generally get to act like a kid without having to give up all the benefits that come with being an adult. In other words, it's one of the few times you get the best of both worlds.
With regards to costumes, though, this post on Feministing has me thinking and trying to figure out where I draw the line. I think that some costumes are really offensive, and some are just in poor taste, while others are completely fine, and I've never actually thought about where the line seperates them.
Most costumes are probably pretty inoffensive. Or, at least, not overtly racist or sexist. If you dress up as a ghost or a witch or a monster, you're probably not going to be crossing the line, right? Now, the weird way that women's costumes are almost always super sexied up is problematic, but that's sort of a different issue.
Now, there are some costumes that I think are almost always offensive- and a lot of times, I think that they're intentionally offensive. They're the costumes that people wear just to get a reaction. I've seen pictures of people dressed up as the twin towers from as far back as 2002. You don't dress up in that kind of costume unless you're specifically trying to get a rise out of people- it's the "Look at how shocking and offensive I can be! I'm a rebel!" costume.
I think that people who dress up as people like Hitler or as KKK members are probably falling somewhere along the same lines- they know that they've picked out a costume that people are going to be completely shocked by, and they're looking to get that reaction.
And then there are the costumes I'm more confused about- like the ones that were pointed out in that feministing post. How bright and well defined is the line between dressing as a character from another culture's history or mythology, and dressing as a racial stereotype?
I don't think that any of us are confused about the notion that dressing in blackface would be offensive. That seems to be well understood, and I certainly don't disagree in the slightest. What about that samurai costume, though? Or, to pick something that all of us almost surely seen at least a few times: the ninja?
Now, I want to make it clear that I think that there are some important differences between blackface and ninja, and that the two really aren't the same, but I think that they exist on a continuum, and I'm not clear where, or even if, there's an easy point where we can draw the line.
I don't think that dressing as a ninja is particularly problematic. While ninja are associated with Japanese culture, I think that most people are aware that they're not real (or, at least, not real as presented). The ninja as a person who wears all black and disappears in a puff of smoke is a mythological figure- a fictional character from stories. More important, I think, is that "ninja" is an occupation- it's something you do. It's not a race. If the goal was to dress up as a Japanese person, I think that would become more problematic. Ninja has more in common with, say, Cowboy or Superhero than it does with blackface.
The more troubling and difficult cases, though, are things like the American Indian costume from that post. I find costumes like that troubling because they're not really costumes of occupations or characters- they're reinforcing stereotypes. Costumes like that strike me as being a lot more like blackface in that the whole point of the costume is that you're pretending to be a person of a particular race.
So, I think I'd really like to hear what other people are thinking about this, because I find myself wanting to justify or excuse some costumes that pull from other cultures- matador or samurai or pharoah, for example- because I seem to find them less troubling than others, but I can't help but wonder how that looks from the outside. Is it that some aren't offensive but others are, or maybe they're all problematic, but some moreso than others?