“Sexy Indian Princess” and “Eskimo Cutie” are words I never thought I’d see in a university campus bookstore. And yet under their new-and-improved Campus Store moniker, McMaster’s bookstore is now selling Halloween costumes – and very offensive ones at that.
Every year I see cringe-worthy concoctions in line for TwelvEighty’s ever-popular Halloween club night. Aside from the revealing choices of many club-goers and the frequent rude joke outfits (ahem, six-foot-tall penises), the worst offenders continue to be the racist and culturally insensitive.
Perhaps it’s a tired request: dress with some respect on Oct. 31 and the party days that surround it. But based on the “costumes” that continue to proliferate the last week of October, and the merchandise being sold on our very own campus, it’s clearly a conversation worth rehashing.
First Nations costumes are probably the most common of the most inappropriate found around this time of year.
Donning the traditional dress of First Nations peoples because you like moccasins and hipster clothing ads have made it cool to wear feather headdresses is not okay. Doing so stereotypes and appropriates the culture of a diverse group of peoples, erases their identity, and ignores the history of colonization and genocide that is regrettably intrinsic to their relationship with Caucasian settlers (and that includes you, even now, even “after all these years”). Their culture and practice is disrespected through parodic – and always hypersexualized – costuming.
Apparently this is news to Campus Store, who offer three sexed-up First Nations costumes for women: Indian Princess, Sexy Indian Princess, and Eskimo Cutie (complete with a disgusting “faux chocolate popsicle”).
Many other Othered and marginalized groups also get “put on” for a day every October. Under no circumstances is sexualizing and insulting Indian, Mexican, Arabic or Asian cultures an acceptable thing to do. Not even for a day, not even if you “mean it as a joke,” not even if you have one <insert ethnic group here> friend who thinks it’s really cool/funny/acceptable.
An ignorant celebrity culture helps normalize this kind of overlooked racism. In recent history when Paris Hilton dressed as a scantily-clad First Nations woman, Heidi Klum as Hindu Goddess Kali, NHL player Raffi Torres as Jay-Z (complete with blackface) and Chris Brown as a Middle-Eastern terrorist, it made cultural appropriation and stereotyping seem totally passable.
A great campaign put it succinctly last year with posters that read, “We’re a culture, not a costume. This is not who I am and this is not okay” along with people from marginalized groups holding pictures of people in costumes of their heritage. The examples it gave of costumed people in blackface, or mustached with sombreros, or wearing turbans – all inappropriately boiling a peoples down to one stereotypical image – were powerful, albeit oft-parodied since.
All it takes is a quick stroll down a costume aisle at a big-box party store to see that these costumes are as popular as ever, are readily available, and are clearly not being questioned or criticized enough to create change. Even here at McMaster, in 2013, on an educated and progressive campus.
This isn’t about being “politically correct,” or any other kind of buzz-word rhetoric. This is about being a decent human being. And it’s a perspective and mandate we need to wear and internalize this Halloween – and every other day of the year.
The Campus Store has since removed the “Sexy Indian Princess,” “Eskimo Cutie” and “Tackle Me” costumes discussed in this article. A full story on the developments will be published in this week’s edition of The Silhouette. This article is updated from the editorial originally published in print on Oct. 24, 2013.