While at a Halloween party this weekend, my friend and I discussed Halloween’s whiteness by addressing the racially suggestive and discriminatory costumes we have encountered time and time again, which often are worn by predominantly white bodies. For example, the incident, a few years ago at a Royal Canadian Legion Halloween party in Campbellford, in which two white males dressed up, one as a Ku Klux Klan member and the other as a slave, sporting blackface. In agreement with this point, I furthered this idea of Halloween as white, joking, “candy wasn’t the only thing whites were eating on Halloween; they definitely seemed to enjoy taking a bite out of that chocolate.”
This occasion, as metaphorically implied by the joke, was just another form of what bell hooks had coined as “eating the other,” in her piece entitled Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance.
Halloween is a holiday in which white society can publically commodify and exploit Otherness. It provides white society the opportunity, for one day, to embody what they are not – the Other. However, embodying Otherness is not simply restricted to adorning a racist costume; it also extends itself to action, speech, and comportment. For example, Halloween enables the white female draped in colourful feathers and caramel suede, dressed as a “native,” to further embody this costume by jumping around with a stick in hand bellowing out “native american” calls or speaking in “indigenous” dialects in attempts to further authenticate this highly racist costume.
The fact that the same Halloween proceeding Antoine Dodson’s fifteen minute rise to Youtube fame was saturated with white bodies in blackface sporting Dodson costumes and mimicking not solely what they believed to be his personality, but what were also essentialized and stereotyped notions of poor, inner-city black youth (i.e uncouth, loud, primitive, etcetera) all speaks to the whiteness of this holiday.
Halloween has become a consumerist holiday in which white society’s desire to be, embody, and commodify Otherness is not only accepted, but also popularized. hooks explains this idea best by stating “within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.” This further speaks to the celebration and popularization of Halloween; for, “The commodification of Otherness has been so successful,” Hooks argues, “because it is offered as a new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling.”
In other words, the normalization of white society as “society” does not enable its white members to deviate from who and what they are – white. The inability to be other than white, thus creates a mundane and unexciting space for white bodies. For, within this society (which I would like to point out has been created by white, heteronormative patriarchs for white, heteronormative patriarchs), white bodies are normalized and therefore, unable to embody anything but “the normal.” Thus, as hooks points out, commodification of Otherness presents itself as an alternative way to “liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.”
Halloween does just that. It enables white participants to indulge in the “exotic” – the wonders that are Otherness, ethnicity, and racial difference. To wear different national, racial, and ethnic identities, whether it be the native or black, as previously mentioned, or to adorn sarees or turbans claiming to be “dressed up” as an Indian or Muslim or perhaps to sport a sombrero riding a stuffed donkey calling oneself a Mexican, Halloween provides a shameless and ridicule-free way of allowing white people to break free from the restrictive, dull, and mainstream holds of white society to be whoever they wish to be – including the Other.
Tyrone Speaks is a column written by Christiana Collison on the subject of black feminism. It appears every other Wednesday in commentary. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.