Monday, November 1, 2010

Costumes for Minority Kids: Is it more difficult?

OK, I posted about racist costumes, which is basically any time a white person dresses up as a minority person, really.  But what about costumes for minority kids?  Are there issues and pitfalls to be aware of?

I'm curious as to what y'all make of this -- Maya got to wear her costume to the ballet class before Halloween.  That's a yearly tradition at her ballet school, and the students are still required to wear the usual pink tights and ballet shoes.  After class, Maya asked me if she had to wear tights with her costume on Halloween.  I told her it would be up to her, unless it was cold, and then she'd need to wear them for warmth.

When it came time to get ready for trick-or-treating, I told Maya it was her choice whether to wear tights since it was plenty warm.  Maya declared she wanted to wear her pink tights, since it "makes my legs look more like Dorothy's."  Of course, Dorothy doesn't wear tights in the movie.  So my thought is that Maya was saying wearing tights made her legs look Caucasian, like Dorothy.

How much "race-bending" are you comfortable with for your non-Caucasian children for Halloween?  As Cinderella, would your Chinese child wear a blonde wig?  Would you put your non-white child in "white-face" to be Harry Potter? Would you paint her face white to be a ghost?  A zombie?  Is that different from painting her face green to be a witch?  If  your Chinese child wants to be a farmer, to you put her in Howdy-Doody freckles?  Or is she simply a Chinese farmer?  And does that mean a "coolie" hat?!

The questions are difficult, it seems to me, because the line between dress-up and "wanting to be white" is so thin for minority kids. And the line between "wanting to be white" and self-loathing is even thinner.

Have you had to deal with these issues with your child?  I've always said no to the blonde-wig thing, but that's about all I've had to address (except for the "Dorothy's legs" thing this year!). And yes, Maya wore her tights. So where do you draw the line?

13 comments:

The Hernandez Herd said...

I really think you are thinking way too much into this. Kids like to look like anyhting they are not. I grew up as a mexican kid and never wanted to look white. I did want curly hair because mine was straight and my cousins was like Shirly Temples. I don't think it needs as much worry as we think.

Hoots Momma said...

Halloween is about being something your not...who cares about their race or ethnicity. I don't think it matters what their skin color is.. just let them dress up. it's fantasy...

Sunday Kofffon Taylor said...

I would say not to the blond wig, personally.

Some of my African-American friends were discussing this on FB last night; they felt strongly that allowing an African-American boy dress in an orange prison jump suit was a big no-no. So I would say stay away from that one.

Molly said...

My daughter's not even three, and went as a leopard this year, so I haven't had to deal with this as a practical matter.

In general, I think it's fine for kids to dress up as an individual of a different ethnicity, but not to the point of making themselves up to be a different race (=whiteface/blackface/etc.).

Freckles on a farmer I'd be fine with, because there are Chinese people with freckles. (I'd certainly prefer freckles to a coolie hat, even though the latter could technically be considered appropriate to a Chinese farmer!)

A blond wig on cinderella ... eh, it depends on whether it's specifically Disney's Cinderella or not. (Cinderella has appeared on Dora as a brunette, for example.) So if my kid asked for a blond wig, I might say, "What makes you think Cinderella has to be blond?" and offer counter-examples.

I almost think it'd have to be case-by-case; in general, I think I'd try to come up with the most readily identifiable characteristics and push for those in lieu of race. (Cinderella can have any color hair, but the glass slipper is non-negotiable. Einstein, on the other hand, would HAVE to have a crazy wig. )

Lee said...

With some exceptions, I agree with Molly when she said, "In general, I think it's fine for kids to dress up as an individual of a different ethnicity, but not to the point of making themselves up to be a different race (whiteface/blackface/etc.)."

We trick or treated at the mall for an hour yesterday, and I couldn't believe when I saw a mom with 3 kids where the daughter had on a qipao, black wig, powdered face and bright red lips. I'm still not sure if she was supposed to be just a Chinese girl, or a geisha. So either troubling, or downright alarming.

The mother I saw with the 2-year-old simply in a qipao did not particularly bother me at first, until I noticed she had black lines drawn on the edge of her eyes. Eye makeup, or trying to make the eyes look Asian? I don't know.

I think if you asked either of these moms (the latter mom was Hispanic, while the "geisha's" mom was white) if they would dress their child up in a costume that included blackface, they would say "absolutely not!" Then why is it ok to give your child "Asian face?"

But, would either of these moms have tried to turn the tables on me? My Asian daughter was dressed as a cowgirl. Is that a strictly white archetype?

sharon said...

My Ethiopian daughter went as Ariel one year, and we opted for the red wig, but a mermaid is a fantasy character, not an ethnicity. She's also gone as Dorothy, Rapunzel, and Cinderella; in each of those cases, we created longer hair for her by making our own "extensions" out of yarn that matched her natural hair color. Everyone has been able to tell what character she was interpreting. I think it helps that we have books at home showing Rapunzel and Cinderella as Black for inspiration, so she's never expressed any desire to go blonde for these costumes.

birthmothertalks said...

I am saying this in a nice way but I thinking people are thinking way too much these days. Halloween is suppose to fun. Your suppose to dress up as something that your not. People are thinking way too much. My youngest son is ten (white) he dressed up as a prisoner. Not trying to offend anyone but sometimes just let the children be children.

Greg and Julie said...

My daughter (from China) wanted to be Strawberry Shortcake. The only costume I found came with a bright red or pink wig. I think I would have let her wear it since that is very Strawberry Shortcake. What we ended up doing was a homemade version with a homemade hat so a wig was not an option and she didn't ask. She loved it!

Last year she was Cinderella. She had the blue fancy dress and silver sparkly shoes. That was good enough for her!

In general I think it's fine to dress up as someone of a different ethnicity. That's part of the fun of Halloween! You can be anything! I see caucasian kids dress up as ninjas or Mulan. Is that crossing a line? Having said that though, I think I would have been uncomfortable if she had wanted to wear the blond Cinderella wig.

Anonymous said...

My dark brown Indian daughter was Snow White for Halloween. Last year she had a white turtleneck under her costume (pumpkin princess) and it looked funny, so this year I made sure I had a dark brown turtleneck to wear underneath, so her skin color blended with her turtleneck and didn't ruin the effect of her costume. She was a beautiful and very happy Snow White. (Her preschool spent a week studying fairytales this summer and she has been a die hard Snow fan every since).

Scott O said...

Hadn't thought about this. One of my boys (Chinese) was Superman, and there was a 3 year old black girl at our neighbor's party who was Batman.

Elaine said...

Well I painted one of my daughter's face green to be a witch and the other one white to be the grim reaper. White because the GR has a skull for a face, ya know.
I think that we all know/recognize racist costumes when we see them - blackface, whiteface etc. But no, I've never thought to worry about my girls wanting to be white or blond - primarily because they have zero desire to be so. Maybe because we live in Asia where their blond/white friends stick out like sore thumbs.
Ask again next year when we've moved to the US.

Elaine said...

Well I painted one of my daughter's face green to be a witch and the other one white to be the grim reaper. White because the GR has a skull for a face, ya know.
I think that we all know/recognize racist costumes when we see them - blackface, whiteface etc. But no, I've never thought to worry about my girls wanting to be white or blond - primarily because they have zero desire to be so. Maybe because we live in Asia where their blond/white friends stick out like sore thumbs.
Ask again next year when we've moved to the US.

Oh and, when the GR was younger she had both a Strawberry Shortcake costume and a Madeline costume. It never occurred to either of us that she couldn't be such with her dark hair and skin and black eyes. Though she did insist on orange skin the year she was a pumpkin.

Elaine said...

Sorry about that double posted comment. Odd 'cause I didn't hit publish until after I added the last thought.
Creepy.