Ethnicity-based costumes offend
In anticipation of one of history’s most influential elections, Pittsburghers emphasized a spirit of politics-based creativity this Halloween. Trick-or-treaters and college party hoppers alike donned beaming Obama masks, lipstick-smeared pig attire, and even pillow-strapped “pregnant teenager” costumes.
Most shocking to me, though, were the “Arabs” running around Oakland. Apparently, when domestic political culture didn’t suffice for some, they posed in foreign attire for the costume parties they hit — but these costumes quickly crossed the line from festive to offensive.
A long, white shirt over baggy trousers, the average Arab man’s national dress is known as the “thoub,” and is often accompanied by red and white checkered headgear, the “gutra.” A black rope-like cord, the “agal,” holds the gutra in place. Men wear this to work, social gatherings, and at home, in most Arab countries.
This same dress was also the butt of jokes on Halloween. The eerie nature of Halloween combined with a foreigner’s daily wear is not just irrelevant, but also a strong statement of ignorance. The use of the Arab dress as a costume perpetuated highly biased portrayals of Arabs.
While I understand that the “haunted” theme of Halloween has evolved over time, the American obsession with Arab exoticism cannot be ridiculed. Impersonating figures that have cultural significance isn’t justifiable by any means.
To know nothing about a culture and yet to objectify it is absurd. German-American model Heidi Klum is a perfect example: In her award-winning Halloween costume, for which she was guised as the Hindu goddess “Kali,” Klum transformed herself into her own souvenir from her summer trip to India. When criticized by Hindus for disrespecting a “highly revered” goddess, Klum said in an NDTV report, “I loved it because she’s so mean and killed all these different people and had fingers hanging off her and little shrunken heads everywhere.” Indeed, there is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.
Halloween costumes that nag at cultural sensitivities are an expression of an ill-bred fascination with the “other.” Because of its obviously distinctive nature, foreign wear on an American produces the desired dramatic effect. Curiosity with an alien group is embedded in the American psyche.
Whether by embracing the “goth” subculture or inscribing swastika tattoos, Americans strive to attain shock-based individuality. Halloween costumes based on other cultures are nothing but a part of this subconscious movement to fill a void left by the blandness of an exceedingly uniform American culture.
Crafting costumes out of the Arab national dress is an insulting way to celebrate an occasion traditionally marked by monsters and devils. The two shouldn’t be aligned as one. With particular respect to the Arab community, this action further degrades a group already scarred by misconceptions, prejudice, and sociopolitical scrutiny. Inconsideration of the various cultures that constitute today’s diverse American society not only generates ill will but also cramps the possibility of understanding those cultures.