Don’t politicize children’s costumes

By John C. McClanahan
Copy Editor & Editorial Proofreader

When I was 10 years old, I dressed as 6-foot black NBA superstar Allen Iverson for Halloween. I was a small white boy with shaggy brown hair and goofy blue glasses. But no one said anything about me inappropriately using the image of a person of color, at least in the realm of American sports icons.

However, some believe there are serious issues surrounding what children wear for Halloween regarding connotations of race, culture and ethnicity.

According to LSPIRG, an organization that advocates social change, “Regardless of intentions, appropriative costumes still perpetuate harmful stereotypes and justify more aggressive and violent situations.”

I do not completely agree. It’s not like I was wearing blackface or anything.

When I was 10, I had no desire to dress as white NBA players, like Dirk Nowitzki, who had yet to become an all-star, or Shawn Bradley, who many considered to be one of the worst players at the time.

Then, Iverson was my hero. I immitated this iconic black basketball player on my elementary school’s blacktop, trying to bounce balls between my legs and shake ankles like he did. At the time, many kids I knew – white, black, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern and Asian – idolized Iverson. On the other hand, he was an American sports icon, and a Philadelphia 76’rs jersey isn’t exactly a grass skirt or ceremonial headdress.

Halloween does not need  appropriative children’s costumes, especially ones depicting animated ethnic characters such as Moana, or Miguel from 2017’s “Coco.”

There are better ways to teach children about the respect owed to all cultures, without parents overreacting to an unofficial faux pas stemmed from political correctness.

“I think that the argument has absolutely become politicized,” Susan Scafidi, a legal scholar, told USA Today. “But it doesn’t need to be. We can all learn to be polite and respectful without being political. And, in fact, I think most people want to be.” Scafidi is the author of “Who Owns Culture: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law.”

Even if we lack a socio-political agenda, we should always mind other’s reference points and what other groups’ cultures mean to them. A white, Hispanic or Asian child might want to dress as the Marvel Comics superhero Black Panther, but some believe this encroaches on an identity designated to a marginalized group.

“As parents, or even as the people creating costumes, we need to be very aware of what that says,” Brigitte Vittrup, an associate professor of early childhood development and education at Texas Woman’s University, told The New York Times. “There’s not a whole lot of black superheroes, so this is a really important thing, especially for black kids growing up.”

Black children should have heroes and role models to look up to. But I also believe children of every color, class, culture, creed and gender should be allowed to choose who they want to emulate.

Halloween is not a holiday for spoofing or mocking people’s heritage. It’s a night for a child to break from their shell and live as their favorite athlete, superhero or rock star, without adhering to his or her politicized culture.

“It would be terrible if we had to all remain in our own cultural lanes and only eat those exact same cuisines that our parents and grandparents and so forth ate, and never be able to travel the world by going from one restaurant to another or to experience other languages and movies and novels, and yes, modes of dress,” Scafidi said.

So, if a white girl wants to dress as Black Panther and a black boy wants to dress as Snow White, let them.

Allowing children to admire other cultures by figuratively stepping into their shoes, whether it’s LeBron James’ sneakers or Cinderella’s slippers, bridges social gaps rather than perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

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