With the Halloween celebration approaching this weekend, Athens seems to be buzzing with excitement. Today I was held up in traffic for half an hour while cute little kids ran around uptown getting candy from local businesses, but there will be a very different kind of frolicking on the same streets come Saturday. While I admit to loving Halloween (and am looking forward to dressing up and having fun with my friends this weekend), I have long been annoyed with the expectation that women exploit their own bodies during this celebration. However, the news stories flooding the internet today about STARS’ (an OU anti-racism student group) Halloween campaign have drawn attention to another issue which I think has some interesting connections to our readings for this week.
For anyone who has not yet heard about this campaign, STARS created posters stating “We’re a culture, not a costume. This is not me, and this is not okay” and featuring OU students holding photos of racially or ethnically offensive costumes.
While all the “sexy/slutty” variant costumes available for women get a lot of negative attention this time of year, I honestly have not heard any commentary about racially offensive costumes until now, and I wonder whether or not this reflects an overall apathy about the seriousness of stereotyping and caricaturing racial/ethnic groups.
I posted a link to an article about this campaign on Facebook today, and a high school friend challenged the story’s assertion that ethnic costumes are offensive. She compared the Mexican in a sombrero or geisha with a cowboy or zoot suit mobster costume, and while she wasn’t trying to say that none of these costumes are negative, she clearly thought that this is an issue that is overblown. While I respect this friend, I think her comments did reflect a general opinion that we don’t have a problem with race in our country anymore and, therefore, anyone making it an issue is making a mountain out of a molehill or being overly sensitive.
While I would never claim that donning a costume for Halloween that draws on a cultural stereotype is on the same level as the problems discussed by Schiebinger (such as exploiting black people by making exhibitions out of them and parading them around like zoo creatures), I think these situations do share a certain racial antipathy that sees other racial or ethnic groups as an exotic Other that can be objectified for pleasure or entertainment. I also wonder how the white students/individuals who don’t think this is a big deal would respond to a black student making themselves up in white-face and caricaturing the “preppy frat guy/sorority chick” or something like that. Would it still be funny, or is there a double-standard in place for what cultural groups are open to objectification on Halloween?
I’m proud of the students who created this campaign and started a national discussion about racial stereotyping and negative representations. I just hope that the message is not something that is so easily brushed off as “overly sensitive.” And I hope to see less “dirty Mexicans” and “sexy eskimos” this Saturday.