Here’s Your Yearly Reminder That Blackface For Your Halloween Costume Ain’t It, Y’all
Finally, October has arrived. The time for pumpkins, candy, and costumes are upon us, meaning we all have the chance to channel our inner child and let loose for one night a year (it’s more like one week if we’re honest). But with the season of dressing up for fun comes the inevitable scourge of costumes the internet exposes of blatantly racist and offensive Halloween costumes. We’re talking, of course, about blackface.
Here is a Halloween PSA for everyone: black skin is not an “accessory” to your costume in the same way that plastic vampire fangs or a witch’s hat can be.
The cultural and historical baggage that blackface holds in America is reason enough to simply banish it as an option to add to your Halloween costume. Every year, black people and POCs are again reminded of how ignorant some non-POCs are when it comes to the history and baggage that attached to wearing blackface. No, it doesn’t matter if you’re “well-intentioned” or “just having fun”, blackface is never an acceptable addition to a costume. Period. Seeing white people use Halloween as an excuse to paint their face black has long been something that black people have silently fumed over. But thankfully, the tides are turning and that time of silence is coming to an end.
Blackface has a long and painful cultural legacy in the United States. The “tradition” of blackface goes back to at least the 1800s, when white entertainers would paint their faces black, their lips red, and wear wigs and “rag” clothing to impersonate what they believed black people acted like. These minstrel shows were incredibly popular in the US and beyond. Their widespread popularity served to reinforce racist and negative stereotypes that gave evidence to the belief that black people were fundamentally different from white people. The practice dehumanized and degraded Black Americans.
The argument that painting your face black is simply an homage to your favorite character ignores the painful history behind changing one’s skin tone as a means of entertainment.
Black skin is not a costume. It is not an accessory. It is something that millions of black people have been enslaved, persecuted, and killed over. Wearing blackface as a white person simply reinforces and emphasizes the cultural dominance white people have–and the blatant disregard so many of them have for what black people continue to explain is offensive. The fact that ⅓ of Americans still believe that blackface is acceptable for a Halloween costume proves that white supremacy is real. It may be subtle or unconscious, but it is alive and well.
As Professor George Yancy said in his powerful New York Times essay, blackface is “a performance historically grounded in white supremacy”. The fact that so many white people still insist that POCs are “too sensitive” or “can’t take a joke” or are “taking it the wrong way” when they’re caught in the act of blackface is part of what makes it so offensive. In essence, it is an attempt to erase centuries of historical trauma by claiming that it is “all in good fun”.
If you still doubt that dressing in blackface for Halloween is as problematic as we claim, look no further than Twitter to absolve you of that notion.
Sometimes, the only way to fully understand a concept is to read about it in 280 characters.
This person gave an on-point example of how to pull off Halloween costumes of black characters without changing your skin tone:
Another point that’s worth noting: black characters, celebrities, and public figures are more than the color of their skin. It should be easy to portray the essence of who a person is without painting your skin black.
This person has a creative solution of how to avoid the inevitable scandal that is sure to fill our news feeds this October:
Admittedly, that’s one way to solve the problem. A better way? Simply understand that the practice is unacceptable.
This person has pretty detailed directions on how to choose a non-problematic costume this year:
Yes, costumes that appropriate a marginalized group’s culture are also something to 100% steer clear of. Again, the reason lies in the history of white supremacy, the violent history of Western dominance, and the historical oppression of POCs.
This person shared some iron-clad advice for non-POCs heading into the Halloween season:
It’s ironic that the advice is so simple, but it seems to be so hard for so many people to follow! Here’s to hoping that this year will be different.