Halloween: Culture is not a costume

Halloween in New Orleans is an adult affair. The costumes range from non-existent to incredibly over the top creative. Both last year and this year, Halloween has fallen on a weekday so a lot of people went out on the Saturday before. I went to frenchmen st. both times, and the sheer volume of people was insane both times. But it was a lot of fun. Last year I didn’t go out ON Halloween night, and the next day, I was feeling like that was a good idea, because there was a shooting on Bourbon street and a lot of folks were caught in the cross-fire.

This year I did go out on Halloween, but I steered clear of Bourbon street. I put on my same, homemade/updated version of the cheshire cat costume I wore on Saturday and headed out to the french quarter for the halloween parade I missed last year. It’s a pretty tiny parade, but it’s all fun, and mostly about costume spotting anyway. The best was seeing Abe Lincoln ride by us on one of those old 1800s bicycles–you know the one with the gigantic front wheel and the baby back wheel?

On our way to Molly’s at the Market we stopped by Voodoo Authentica where they were giving a history of what voodoo is as a practice, and then we swung by Gato Negro for a margarita (they are really the best) and a burrito. The parade was fun, caught a few beads, and then we headed to the House of Blues where there was some free event going on. It was pretty empty, but the DJ–Jermaine Quiz–was great! Will have to find out where he plays. We passed voodoo authentica again, where they were having a drum circle. And then we decided to make our way to frenchmen street. On royal we came across a Thriller flash mob of high school looking students.

We got to frenchmen SO early, it was still pretty empty. But we hung out the whole night. All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable night–popping in and out of the only bars that were free, dancing in the street, and just people watching. Until…we all started noticing all the culturally insensitive costumes. I know the “we’re a culture, not a costume” campaign hasn’t circulated everywhere, and that it doesn’t really resound with everyone (mostly who think everything that’s “other” to them is fair game), but it really needs to stop.

There were the expected costumes: the native americans–with the headdresses ranging from cheap looking to elaborate, the war paint, the mocassins, and the over-sexualized outfits; and a few Japanese geishas. There was the new fad of dressing as Mexicans in a poncho, with sombrero and thick black mustache. But there were a slew of people dressed as what were supposed to be people of Arab descent. Lots of do-rags turned kafiya (I think that’s the correct word). Then one guy took the cake and not only dressed as a man of Arab descent, but strapped fake TNT to himself and borrowed someone’s fake rifle to pose as a jihadist, or in the words of George W. a “turrist.” -_-

People, please! Can we get it together? Can we have a little respect for cultures and clothing that are different from our own without marginalizing them into being your “dress up” clothes? your play clothes? It’s worse when they are cultures that have either been stigmatized in American dialogue (such as Mexicans and Middle Easterners) or people who have been systematically disenfranchised by early Euro-Americans/Western culture in general (i.e. Native Americans). May as well dress in blackface, put on some old rags, carry around farming tools, and wear a sign that says ‘Chicken George.’ Same damn thing.

Your dressing as caricatures of a culture reduces the richness of their complexities (their values, principles, faith, dress, history, etc.) and defines populations numbering in the millions as having one singular, homogenous, identity. It’s insulting. Just stop. Period. Be something scary, be a character in a movie or in a book. Or a be a person from history–which is one of the ONLY times it’s really appropriate to dress in someone else’s traditional clothing. And if you do that, do it with respect, and let there be clarity on who you are without being stupid stereotypical: i.e. don’t say I’m Pocahontas and then strap on a leather bikini, some mocassins, and throw some hot pink feathers in your hair.

Anyhow. Other than that observation, it was a great Halloween. New Orleans is really the place to be for this holiday.