“Since 1983, at Spirit Halloween, we have offered a wide and balanced range of Halloween costumes that are inspired by, celebrate, and appreciate numerous cultures.”
This is the pithy excuse of a costume supplier defending its shittiest creations, including indigenous princess “Queen of the Tribe,” Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, a Day of the Dead dress, a kid’s Geisha outfit — seriously, the list goes on. It’s like they tried to check off every racist, bigoted box they could.
What’s worse is that, when called out on their bigotry, Spirit Halloween dug in their heels. A group of activists in Regina put together a guerilla campaign to combat the selling of culturally insensitive costumes by putting warning labels on any costume labelled “Indian” or “indigenous.” Apart from pointing out the obvious racism, the warning labels also noted that there are upwards of 4,000 missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, and that an inquiry is currently underway.
Spirit Halloween shot back, lambasting the campaign for “defacing our products.”
There’s a special place in hell reserved for people who double down when called out on something they’ve done wrong (see: Donald Trump). And it’s clear that Spirit Halloween didn’t have to defend its products: just last week, UK costume supplier McCulloch’s Costume Co. pulled its “native” costumes off the shelves just 15 hours after consumers started a petition against them. “It was never our intention to offend anyone,” the owner said.
Change like this is almost always incremental, and it’s a credit to activists who spoke up to raise awareness and encourage businesses to think about the messages they’re sending. While this doesn’t defend McCulloch’s actions, at least they were willing to own up to their mistake and make amends. Spirit Halloween could learn a lot from their example.
At the end of the day, though, it’s as much the fault of those buying the costumes as it is of those supplying them. You could argue that “native” costumes aren’t as over-the-top as wearing blackface or buying a Hitler outfit, but thinking of racism in degrees is like saying it’s OK to have a little bit of cancer. It’s still going to kill you.
This criticism also applies to costumes that make light of abuses, like Bill Cosby costumes, or that costume of Donald Trump assaulting Melania.
Not only is it obviously a dick move, but it’s also super lazy. Can you really not think of a better costume? Is it too much to ask that you think of something that doesn’t make someone feel like crap, or like they don’t matter? That’s the logic of a bully, and rule number one of Halloween is that it’s all about being awesome, not being a jerk.
Anyone who thinks these costumes “celebrate and appreciate numerous cultures” needs to take a good, hard look in the mirror. Halloween is a great opportunity to be someone else for a day, but there are limits, and one of those limits is making sure you don’t take someone else’s experience and make a mockery of it.