Since it’s Halloween weekend, I thought this was quite relevant. I’m sure most people has seen this by now—the Ohio University students who created this Halloween costume campaign are now everywhere. The images from the campaign have gone viral and have even caught mainstream media attention: http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/26/living/halloween-ethnic-costumes/?hpt=us_t4
There has been a lot of debate over the legitimacy of the campaign. Some are very enthusiastic about the campaign, saying that this message is very fitting for Halloween, but should be a take-away for all 365 days of the year. Others say that since the movement was generated by a very small number of students (a group of only about ten passionate students) that this cannot possibly represent the perspective of all students of color. In essence, some people think that this means it is still okay to wear racist costumes that demean, simplify, mock, and misrepresent entire peoples. Many still believe that these caricatured representations are just simply not racist at all.
Every Halloween costumes become an issue, yet there is also always an equal amount of resistance to social justice work trying to abolish such racist outfits. Of course, ignorance in society makes it easy for some people to claim that Halloween is just one day out of the year where people can become whoever they want to be, that it’s what the holiday actually is all about. Yet, beyond just this one day, don’t we see continuing appropriation of cultures, misrepresentation of races? There may be small victories here and there, which feel very good, but what about the deeper sentiment that these fights allude to? That our society doesn’t care about how people of color are represented because society gets to define those images for us? This is especially true for our API community that is constantly defined by everything from our eyes, skin, hair to parenting styles, languages/accents, and even food. Bottom line: we want to represent ourselves in society, so let’s tell others when we’re being misrepresented. This Halloween, educate some geisha/chinaman-impersonating fool about why they shouldn’t wear racist costumes or clothing. Ever.
Jillian Toda is an Oregonian from the Columbia River Gorge, where her great grandparents farmed upon arriving to America from Japan. She is currently a student at Willamette University majoring in Rhetoric and Media Studies, with a minor in American Ethnic Studies. In her spare time, she’s an MBA candidate at Atkinson Graduate School of Management.