As the popular argument against school uniforms goes, dressing your body is an expression of yourself. And Halloween is a special holiday when our culture allows, and possibly even demands, that we express ourselves more flamboyantly.
However, this can go awry. Within the last month, ETSU has seen the effect that wearing an intentionally offensive costume can have.
As a culture, we recognize that conditions outside of a conversation are important. We frown upon spreading defaming gossip about celebrities being told after they have died, even if the same gossip would have been allowed if they were alive. We don’t appreciate jokes about recent tragedies; we call them crass. The phrase “too soon” is one indication of this. Another is that it will never be 100 percent okay to joke about 9/11.
Costumes are subject to these same rules. In light of recent events, it would be in bad taste to wear a gorilla mask and overalls to a friend’s party. Because of the destruction of Native American culture that has occurred and continues to occur in our country (not least of which is Hollywood’s history of hiring white actors to play Native American characters), it would be in bad taste to dress as “sexy Indian chief” for Halloween.
Even if you cringe at the term “microaggression,” a theory which has encountered criticism from academics and lay people alike, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that donning the traditional or ceremonial clothes of a culture you don’t know anything about might not be the best move.
Add to that Halloween’s standing as an excuse to eat too much candy, drink too much alcohol and engage in risky sexual behavior, and it becomes even clearer that misusing a culture’s traditional dress to engage in these activities is clearly offensive.
There is a clear caveat to these rules though: Children can wear whatever they want, as long as it’s the child’s idea.
Young children don’t know about our nation’s history. They don’t recognize that the climate of society can determine what they can and cannot wear. And also, generally, they have not developed any prejudices or negative feelings toward any outside cultures.
To use the previous example, a child desiring to dress up in Native American clothing wants to look like Disney’s Pocahontas. A child sees her as a role model, a person they can emulate to feel empowered. And these children should be encouraged in this admiration and acceptance of people from other cultures.
Not to mention, children are also not planning to engage in any of the taboo Halloween traditions college students and adults enjoy. While it may seem silly to some people, being careful in choosing your costume is a sign of maturity, of respect, and it can ensure that everyone has a good time on Halloween night instead of causing unintended offense.