I wasn’t going to do a Halloween post this year. I thought about it, but decided I was going to try and let my posts from last year stand on their own. I’ve tried many approaches–the emotional plea, the in-your-face-racism approach, the “I am not a Costume” campaign–but every year, the arguments are the same. No one listens, people on both sides get angry, and then the conversation gets shelved until next year. But then, oh then, I was double-checking that the descriptions I quoted from the Spirit Halloween online store last year were still there…and I found this, and I couldn’t let it go. This is their description of the “Indian Costume”:
“The Indian costume has been a part of the American Halloween scene since the beginning. Kids bedeck themselves in Indian costume jewelry and traditional Indian costumes and are able to live out a slice of American history.
The American Indian costumes that Spirit Halloween offers vary and come with a number of accessories that can make your Indian costume the best in the tribe. The American Indian Halloween costumes for men and boys are great costumes for any party or trick or treating adventure. Just don’t eat too much candy and go on a sugar induced vision quest!
The girl Indian costume variety is also a very popular Halloween costume idea. There are varieties for younger girls and women and similarly there are different accessories for the ladies with traditional Indian jewelry replacing the tomahawk and spear. There is also a sexy Indian costume for the more daring ladies out there trying to land their own John Smith.
Some of the accessories that Spirit offers for these great costumes are traditional Indian tools and weapons, guns, headdresses and jewelry. All of these accessories and costumes may only be a simulation of how these noble people lived, however, showing them deference and respect by keeping their memory alive in the traditions of America, especially one as festive and inspired as Halloween, is a great thing.
So when your kids want to don a traditional Indian costume with frays and a feather, don’t look at it as disrespectful. See it as a way to teach your little one about American history. Tell them about the rich tradition of the natives of this continent before the European invasion: the deep respect for nature, a rich, textured oral history, tribal society, etc. Let them in on the knowledge that for a thousand years, before there were cities and highways and the internet, there was a race of people living amongst the animals and trees. It will set their imagination on fire while instilling in them a sense of respect for Native Americans as well as a desire to learn more about them.
Halloween doesn’t have to be just candy and costumes, so this year, have your kid join the noble ranks of the thousands before him or her who wore the costume they will wear and tell them about the great tradition of it.”
Here’s the full list of costumes the website describes, and notice all of them (with the exception of Geisha, which is equally offensive) are things like witch, pirate, cowboy, “sexy schoolgirl,” kids costumes, couples costumes, etc. “Indian” is the only racial group represented. The others are occupations, fantasy characters, sexual fantasies (french maid and schoolgirl, looking at you)–not an entire, diverse, contemporary, marginalized race of people.
So, I’ve taken the liberty to annotate the description for you (click to make full size):
Enjoy. Welcome to 2012, where Indians don’t exist, lived in the trees, and are super honored by trashy, “sexy,” Indian costumes. Cause if you don’t dress up like your a-historical, romanticized, fake, plastic “Indian,” no one will remember the tragic, noble savage. Right.
And for reference, a slew of previous Halloween and other costume posts (Indian costume defenders, please read them before attempting to eviscerate me):
Halloween Costume Shopping: a sampling of the racism for sale
Open Letter to the PocaHotties and Indian Warriors This Halloween
We are not a costume
But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?
Nudie Neon Indians and the Sexualiztion of Indian Women
A Cowboys and Indians Party is just as bad as a Blackface Party
Paris Hilton as a Sexy Indian: The Halloween Fallout Begins (includes lots of links about the costume issue)
Mid-Week Motivation: I am not your costume