The Pacific Heart

Psychiatry, Spirituality and Culture

“We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” Campaign Pushes the Issue of Racist Halloween Costumes

Ethnic costumes - OK or not OK?

October 26th, 2011

Ohio University's Students Teaching Against Racism in Society put together these posters recently, and they've gone viral - and comments have gone virulent. Some people say "lighten up - it's Halloween", while many others applaud the message. It seems a rather sticky wicket to lay down lines - or a script - for something as colorful as Halloween. After all, Halloween costumes always play with the boundaries of acceptability and the collective unconscious. It generally is a time when things that are suppressed can come out and play, like ghosts and goblins. October 31st gives some sort of special license to be free and playful.

Maybe that's what's really so messed up about "ethnic" costumes on Halloween. Is dressing up as a Geisha or an Arab (a suicide-vest wearing Arab no less) somehow equivalent to being a ghost or zombie? Is that what "the other" looks like to you? That's not the other, these students are saying. That's part of my culture. Well, not the bomb, but you get the point. Maybe a Geisha-Zombie or Arab Dracula would be OK? I really don't know. The point is...what is my point? Oh yes: if Halloween represents a time when the suppressed unconscious comes out, what does it mean that ethnic images are somehow "acceptable" on that day? Well, it feels like the majority culture is once again expressing power by relegating cultural images to Halloween, and effectively making them targets of misguided "humor".  "This is what I'm suppressing/oppressing, or think is funny, weird or scary."  Not OK.

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But, as the folks at You Offend Me, You Offend My Family point out - with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I think - some ethnic costumes are OK (No Racist Halloween Costumes Unless you're Hot and Slutty).  And I think it's fine to see anyone proudly wearing a sari, salwar kameez or Nehru jacket most any other time of the year. But think about it before you try that on Halloween.

© Ravi Chandra, 2011. All rights reserved. Check out my new book of poetry, a fox peeks out: poems, here.  And scroll down to the bottom to like, tweet, comment and share.  If you like this blog post, please consider subscribing via the RSS button on the upper right.  Thanks!

Ravi Chandra, M.D., F.A.P.A. is a Board Certified Psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco, California.

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