Every Halloween, we saw news reports and editorial comments on offensive costumes du jour.  What I call Halloween Costume Conundrum. HCC.

This year, the HCC award went to Illegal Alien:

illegal alien

It was such a brouhaha partly because, in my opinion, it was sold through Target’s website.  Target, the one mega store that does not seem to garner public ires, not yet.  In fact, Target has been the trendy, cheap chic, darling for just about every social spectrum in the U.S.  (It is amazing if you think about it.  Kudos to their PR and marketing teams.)  Protests against this costume started garnering support when immigrant activists cried foul, loudly.  Several news programs commented on the costume as “distasteful” and “disgusting”, or even racist.

Now, I am as overtly sensitive as the next person of color, and probably have one of the largest chips on my shoulder.  But my first reaction to this costume was:

That is clever!

You see: here the costume plays on the double meaning of “alien” and twists it around.  The costume does not indicate the race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation of the wearer.  It reminds us, or me at least, that there ARE illegal aliens from all over the world.  (And as hinted by this costume, beyond this world even…)  AND, the “alien” is holding a GREEN CARD, therefore technically, the being is NOT illegal.

Subversive, no?

Furthermore, it could also be saying: Underneath the appearances, we are all PEOPLE.  Our common enemy should be the sons-of-bitches in the galaxy far far away that are scheming to invade Earth and enslave our minds and bodies.  We are the world.  Indeed. Nicely done.

Why would people look at this and immediately label it as “racist”?  Doesn’t the automatic association of  “illegal aliens = Latinos” expose the person’s own prejudice?

Why would the immigrant activists make the quick assumptions that the illegal aliens in the Extraterrestrial form are meant to target the Latino community?  Although I agree that most people, whether they admit it or not, do make the equation readily, I wish the immigrant activists would have seized the opportunity to dis-stabilize the stereotype that has been haunting the Latino communities.

“Look at this costume.  ‘Illegal aliens’ may not be illegal after all.  And underneath that label / mask, that could be ANYBODY.”

NOW, the more progressive (and yes, the “annoying” ones, the “hyper sensitive” ones, the buzz killers, the trouble makers, etc.) bunch amongst of us wince at any costume that aims to convey a different race/ethnicity when it is donned.  I still feel conflicted towards how I should react:

What if the wearer is a person of color?  What if a Chinese person wants to dress up as a Geisha?  What if an African American person wants to dress up as a Native American warrior or a Native American Princess?  (Yes. I am channeling my puzzlement towards the Tyra Bank’s “Hapa disaster” on America’s Next Top Model…)

How about dressing up as  a Bavarian with a beer mug in hand?   Yodel-a-hee-hoo, Yodel-a-hee-hoo!  Is that offensive to a person of Bavarian descent?

I do have a semi-answer to the above: A person of Bavarian descent would most likely be treated just as a “regular” person.  White.  Un-marked.  Even if they do speak with an accented English, as long as they don’t speak, when they walk down the street, they are “Just like everybody else.”  Whereas a person of color will always carry the visible indicator with them.  We are marked.  There are always assumptions, unconsciously, made about us.

“So, you are Chinese.  You must like rice.”

Yes, I do.  But when I look at a white person, I don’t go,

“So, you are white.  You must like cheese.”   Or, if you are a hip white person, “Sushi“.

Because I overthink things, especially things that matters to nobody else, I was at a loss when I saw this, at a costume shop, right in the middle of the PC, Liberal center of the U.S. – Cambridge, MA:

Pig Tail anyone

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie October 31, 2009 at 10:14 am

Ugh is right. What on earth made someone think that was a good idea?


Linwood's Girl October 31, 2009 at 10:23 am

I always have thought that people just wanna get worked up about Halloween……what ethnicity has not been made fun of…..I went to a party with Afro’s, Mullet wigs, Komono’s, Bull Fighter’s, French maids,… could go on and on. I think sense of humor and being able to laugh and know that (in most cases) there is no offense intended is what make Halloween grand!
.-= Linwood’s Girl´s last blog ..Clean Hands and Poo. =-.


Jamie October 31, 2009 at 10:37 am

I think there’s a difference between making fun of fashions & occupations and sporting pig tails, which are a stereotype of an entire ethnicity. I may be wrong… anyone?


Jane October 31, 2009 at 10:13 pm

I love this post! But when you say “underneath the appearances we are all people?” Nope. Apparently not. Most people can’t see past the appearances. But I love it when I run into the people who do. One time, pushing our new baby in her stroller (recently adopted from Korea – and we’re caucasian) a dear, elderly neighbor ooo’d and ahhh’d over her and then asked, “Are you going to tell her she is adopted?” My husband later giggled over the comment. But I LOVED it. To me, it illustrated our neighbor’s color blindness. He saw a beautiful, sweet baby – not a skin color or eye shape. And because he came from a time when adoptions were secret, he simply wondered how we were going to handle our situation. But those experiences are few – and the “they like rice” comments ( and yes, we’re heard that one a hundred times) are far too many.
.-= Jane´s last blog ..Who Will Visit When We’re Gone? =-.


Robin November 2, 2009 at 8:05 am

I think that is very clever.
.-= Robin´s last blog ..When Avitable Crosses The Line =-.


Velva November 2, 2009 at 9:19 am

Another great blog post! Loved it.
.-= Velva´s last blog ..Winter Minestrone =-.


Absence Alternatives November 2, 2009 at 5:16 pm

@ Jane
LOVE your neighbor’s reaction too!


Absence Alternatives November 2, 2009 at 5:17 pm

@ Jamie
Thanks for the moral support… :-)


Absence Alternatives November 2, 2009 at 5:17 pm

@ Jamie
I don’t know why: but now the smilies look like they have slanty eyes. Are they mocking me?!


Absence Alternatives November 2, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Once again, thank you for letting me vent. And it does feel good to know I am not venting to a vacuum.


Jamie November 2, 2009 at 6:46 pm

I think the smilies are showing solidarity, in their limited way.


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