Halloween: The Most Racist Day of the Year
Growing up in the Michigan parochial school system, we were told by the sisters that the word Hallow’een was a contraction of All Hallows Eve, and that Hallow meant holy or sacred. We were told that on this night when the border between the worlds became blurred, the Celtic tribes believed that the spirits of the dead were allowed to come back to earth. Because they believed that the spirits of the dead could walk among the world of the living, they feared what the spirits might do to them, and tried to disguise themselves to fool the spirits into believing that they weren’t living.
As an impressionable Native girl, that seemed pretty awesome to me back then. Unfortunately, all these traditions have been lost in a materialistic society that transforms everything into a commodity. Sex sells the best in the mainstream media, and this is reflected in the choices that young women make in Halloween costumes. I’ve heard that there are some college parties where women are not allowed to attend unless they are dressed "sexy." The backlash against feminist values is even more chilling when the costumes use other people’s ethnicity to appease the demands of a generation of young white men whose sexual attitudes were constructed almost entirely from pornography. As an indigenous woman, it is disheartening to see how a spiritually bankrupt, pornographic youth culture has transformed All Hallows eve into an opportunity to get drunk and engage in minstrelsy, abusing my image in the process.
While there have been many bloggers objecting to the hyper-sexualization of children and young girls and to the racist element of playing with another human being’s ethnicity on this day, there has been very little written from the perspective of indigenous women, who must confront both misogyny and racism on this day that once carried the connotation of "holy."
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Playing with racial stereotypes is about power. Those with white skin privilege have chosen to do the defining. Those of us without it are dismissed as hyper-sensitive and told to spend our time on issues that whites define for us as being more important. Those of you reading this that have white skin privilege and think it’s just harmless fun to try on the ethnicity of others, need to realize that dehumanization is the essential processes in the transformation of “good” well-intentioned people into perpetrators of evil.
There is no reason why you have to succumb to media indoctrination. There is no reason why Halloween has to be the most racist day of the year. As feminists, humanists, and white anti-racists allies, you can challenge undignified images that misrepresent indigenous people. You can chose to talk about racial stereotypes when you see people “just having fun” with other people’s ethnicity on Halloween. We all need to start honestly discussing who has the power to define others in this society and how we can view all human beings in their full humanity and not as one dimensional stereotypes.
When you are in a position of power, you have a responsibility NOT to mock people who are not in a position of power. Racial stereotypes only function are to reinforce outdated notions of white supremacy. You can choose not to engage in the degradation of your fellow human beings. You can contact he companies who manufacture these costumes and inform them how inappropriate they are. Ethnic costumes are meant to produce a reaction. If you are reading this, you now know that the reaction they produce in indigenous women is one of outrage and offense. If you know something offends a marginalized group of people, then why continue to do it? It’s time to turn Halloween back into a night that is sacred, by respecting all women’s bodies and respecting the dignity of all human beings.
'S Math Sin, a Fhraoch! Tapadh leat!
Adrienne over at Native Appropriations also weighs in on the topic with Paris Hilton as a "Sexy Indian": The Halloween Fallout Begins.
Jodi Rave addresses the problem with Paris Hilton: Dresses as “sexy, Indian warrior princess” for Halloween, and includes a review of Andrea Smith's magnificent, Conquest: sexual violence and American Indian genocide which I consider essential reading on misogyny, racism, cultural appropriation, and the many and sometimes surprising ways these oppressions intersect and support one another. Readers of this blog and colleagues in the fight to protect indigenous spiritual ways from appropriation and exploitation might want to take particular note of Chapter 6: Spiritual Appropriation as Sexual Violence.
You can listen to Andrea Smith speak on Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, in this recording from 2007.
Moran taing a huile duine!