Last night was incredibly blustery in DC. As my friend Christina and I were rushing back to our dorm, bracing against the frigid wind fighting our progress, I asked her what she was going to be for Halloween. Christina laughed and said, “I think I’m going as the Black Swan. Get it?” She pointed to herself, and it was obvious she was referring to her skin color. I laughed and mentioned that I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about being a person of color on Halloween.
Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love any excuse to dress up, make fun of other people’s costumes, and watch Hocus Pocus. But the holiday isn’t void of stress. This stress doesn’t simply come along when trying to gather materials or budget for a costume, but merely deciding what I want to be can be nervewracking. This becomes a huge problem when I want to be a specific character or celebrity for Halloween. It’s nearly impossible for me to merely dress up as my favorite characters from novels or films. I’m known as nothing more than the “Black” version.
Luna Lovegood? Meet Black Luna Lovegood. Amy Pond? Meet Black Amy Pond. Twiggy? Meet Black Twiggy. The list goes on and on, really. And believe it or not, I’m aware of my skin color.
One year in high school I decided to be a girl version of Draco Malfoy for Halloween, thinking it would be pretty fun. I even had a terrible blonde wig to go with it. Needless to say, the commentary was less than flattering, and not just because of the wig.
White people have much more freedom in this category than I or other people of color do. This is pretty obvious, given how many characters and pop culture icons in Western culture are white in the first place. They don’t need to feel awkward about wanting to be a character of color since there are so few characters of color to begin with. There is little worry of running out of options or having to portray characters of their race or ethnicity merely out of convenience.
I’ve tended to go for pretty race neutral costumes as of late. For Halloween 2009 I was a 60s mod, this year I’m going to be an 80s fashionista (read: I’m going to look like a neon mess). But in all honesty, I’m pretty annoyed with my own worrisome ways when it comes to whether or not I can pull off dressing as white characters without too much hassle. And I’m sick of other people classifying my character portrayals as black versions with a snicker. Maybe next year I’ll be Luna Lovegood (hell, I’ll be Black Luna Lovegood) and I won’t care if my fro is too big for a blonde wig. My options shouldn’t be limited to Angelina Johnson, just as someone who is Asian shouldn’t only be expected to portray Cho Chang.
Halloween is about being whoever or whatever you want to be for a night. Well, whatever you want to be as long as it isn’t blatantly offensive (another thing so many people of color have to deal with on this holiday). People of color shouldn’t be placed in these designated boxes of acceptable costume choices, and their decision to step outside of those boxes to portray characters or celebrities they admire shouldn’t be met with derision. After all, until things change and more people of color are regularly represented in a variety of roles, the pickings are depressingly slim.