Last weekend, early Halloween revelers were galavanting, and I spotted a white dude dressed up as what I’m imagining he would say was, “a Mexican.” That is to say he had on a poncho, a sombrero, and a fake mustache as accessories to his cheeky grin.
This Halloween, don’t be that guy thinking you can make a costume out of a culture.
Hispanic people in this country are constantly dealing with racism and xenophobia. It’s not okay to take that identity, reduce it to a couple goofy props, and then go back to your normal life when the evening is done.
First off, that’s having fun at someone else’s expense. Living outside of mainstream white culture in the United States has real costs. You trivialize that reality by treating the situation like a joke.
Secondly, it’s mockery. On other years, I’ve heard people defend their racist Halloween costumes by claiming they respect whomever they are actually mocking and that this should be seen as flattery. And isn’t imitation flattery?
It sure is! I’ve had people dress up as me for Halloween a handful of times. “Soren” is a costume because I have tattoos and wear nothing but jeans and grey t-shirts. So people can reproduce a few of my distinct characteristics and be recognizable as a Soren imitator. And this is flattering because it’s an affirmation of my identity.
The culture costume is fundamentally different, however, because instead of taking very specific things about one person and validating their individuality, it takes very general things from a huge group of people to undermine their individuality. This is not imitation–it is mockery by way of caricature.