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The True Lesson of Halloween (and problematic costumes)

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I shared the image presented below on Facebook.



The image had this caption: "Halloween is all about having a good time! Just make sure you're not having fun at someone else's expense. "

Notice how passive that phrase is. Notice how unoffended it is.

And then a bunch of people took offense at this suggestion. Maybe they weren't hearing themselves as they filled my bingo card with "but it used to be okay"/"PC police"/"taking all the fun out of it"/"you're looking to get offended". The comments ended with (as I'm writing this, though I'm sure there's more by the time this post goes live) a person saying (paraphrased) "So I guess we're not going to dress up and celebrate Halloween, then."

I don't expect children to understand the differences or the nuances or the politics around racial, gender, and ethnic identity. I don't expect children to understand what fetishizing the other means, or how reducing groups of people to a stereotype is offensive, or how dressing as a different gender for a laugh minimizes the experiences of those experiencing gender dysphoria.

I remember making Polack jokes as a kid. I didn't know any better and nobody stopped to correct me. They didn't even seem like racist jokes to me until I heard the exact same jokes being used with black people instead of Polish ones.

I remember being taught about "Indians" (yes, I'm old enough that I remember before we said "Native American", though this applies to that term as well) in school and in Scouts, and not realizing until much much later that the various First Nations were very different with distinct cultures and ways of living.

I didn't know any better because I was a kid.

We aren't children. We are adults and parents and we can teach our children to be better.

The mock outrage of the "I guess we can't dress as anything" crowd is pretty easy to dismantle. Go for imaginary characters like werewolves and zombies and vampires. Or better, go for professions like lawyers and doctors and firefighters.

And if your child insists on dressing as a character portrayed by someone of a different race or gender, take a cue from the cosplayers: gender or race bend that character. A female Joker. A black Superman. 

I have to wonder if these folks have stopped and listened to the words they're saying. How close their arguments about costumes sound like those who decry "how you can't say anything anymore" as they hurl insults and slurs at women, PoC, LGBTQIA folks, or anyone different than themselves.

But that really clarifies it for me.

Sure, this is to some degree political. This is, to some degree, about privilege and power in society.

But it's simpler than that.

This is about being empathetic and kind to others. About treating people the way they want to be treated.

And that's a lesson we definitely want to teach our children.

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