Halloween costumes and blackface never make a good combination. You may not realize this. You might think that anytime you are portraying a person of color, or a different ethnicity, you should go to the darkest makeup hues and paint your face to match the skin complexion of the person you hope to embody. Let’s get this straight from the start – don’t. If you’re thinking about Halloween costumes and wondering if blackface is a good idea, just stop. It’s not. Need proof? Here it is.
Blackface is racist. Halloween costumes with blackface are racist. They are steeped in racism and are part of America’s racist past. Blackface was birthed during a time when people of color couldn’t be opera stars or lead actors in theater plays or Hollywood. African American roles were made into stereotypical caricatures portrayed by white people dressed in blackface. One thing to understand is that in America, there is something called white privilege. It is because of white privilege that many people fail to understand why blackface is dehumanizing, racist, and offensive. It’s also important to recognize that many people of color don’t dress in stereotypical caricatures of white people because they aren’t as prevalent. Halloween costumes that include blackface are racist and offensive because they are turning someone’s ethnicity into a caricature and a stereotype, as explained by the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Please note that blackface isn’t the only offensive and racist costume. There are plenty of racist and offensive Halloween costumes out there. Any time someone dons the “stereotype” of an ethnic group in the form of Halloween costumes, it is offensive.
Every year, especially at Halloween when people are looking for great costumes, the idea to use blackface surfaces. Anyone who reads through social media posts and comments surrounding the controversy of Halloween costumes and blackface will notice one question continues to abound. It is essentially that if a white person wants to dress up as a black person or choose Halloween costumes that include blackface, what’s the problem? It’s likened to wearing contacts or wigs, viewed as harmless and the idea of racism may not even be on the person’s mind. That doesn’t mean that Halloween costumes with blackface aren’t racist or offensive, just that some people innocently offend others, unaware that their actions are hurtful. This year, there has been controversy surrounding Halloween costumes and blackface as it was used to depict Nicki Minaj and Kanye West. Last year, Julianne Hough sparked controversy and outrage when of all the Halloween costumes to choose from, she incorporated blackface for her Orange is the New Black (OITNB) Crazy Eyes costume. Next year, undoubtedly, there will be more Halloween costumes featuring backface and more people asking what the big deal is. Another important question is, are Halloween costumes with blackface inherently racist or does the person’s intent matter?
The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia addressed the prevalent question as to what is wrong with blackface in Halloween costumes by sharing some Reddit questions and answers.
“Why is black face as part of a costume racist? If you are a white person dressing up as a black celebrity or character you would look a lot more like the person if you had a black face, just like you would look a lot more like a person with red hair if you wore a red wig. In no way are you saying black people are inferior, all you are saying is that black people are black. If I saw a black man dressed as me, and was wearing white face, I would shrug it off because I am white, and wearing a white face would make them look more like me.”
The Reddit user responded at length, explaining that while white people may not see the importance in race or race appropriation, even when choosing Halloween costumes, it is very important in black culture.
“To many people, especially people of colour, race matters. It can matter in a lot of negative ways, manifesting in poor treatment, harassment, or simply the circumstances into which they were born, statistically. It can also matter in many positive or affirmative ways; concepts like ‘Black culture’ or ‘Black pride’ exist as a counterpoint, a way for Black people to take pride in themselves and their experiences, and to explore concepts that dominate culture, white culture, doesn’t have experience with that many Black people do. Serious stuff, like mistreatment by the police and justice system, or basic stuff, like hair. Hair! Bet that’s something you’ve never thought about at length (lol) but it’s a pretty important issue for Black folks in America.
“To white folks like us, this often doesn’t make a lot of sense; we were taught, as kids that race doesn’t matter. But it’s very easy to say that something that rarely seems to affect us doesn’t matter; our race as white people is seen by society as default, our experiences as normal. Our stories get to be the ones that get retold and remembered, and we retell and remember them quite frequently. It’s like saying it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, after collecting the trophy and the prize money. “
While some may include blackface with their Halloween costumes, not intending to be offensive, others do. There is no question that many people continue to hold racist views, demean African Americans, and view them through a stereotypical lens. Many of these people see no harm in wearing blackface with their Halloween costumes and mocking the black community because they truly believe they deserve to be mocked.
An Alabama teacher is being investigated for his choice of Halloween costume. While Halloween costumes depicting celebrities are popular, you don’t need to add blackface in order to represent someone of a different race, culture, or ethnic group.
— BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) October 27, 2015
When choosing appropriate Halloween costumes, consider that a person’s culture or ethnicity should never be a costume. This boy earned praise on social media for dressing up in a Michael Jackson costume, but skipping the blackface.
This kid did a great MJ without Blackface. Best costume of the night. pic.twitter.com/TOCuJ4cySX
— Spooky WeeaBOO Trash (@Cody_Andersn) October 24, 2015
— CBCHamilton (@CBCHamilton) November 5, 2014
Even if you don’t understand the full extent of white privilege or the stereotypes used to depict African Americans for over 100 years, just know that when it comes to Halloween costumes, blackface is never okay.
Check out these videos of Halloween costumes using blackface below.