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The following letter is in response to Hypersensitive Halloween by Kristy Barnes

Published: Monday, November 5, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


Hi Kristy. My name is Lindsey and I’m a Boston College alumna who read your article “Hypersensitive Halloween.” I wanted to respond because, frankly, I vehemently disagree.

When people dress up as members of cultures and races other than their own, they tend to reduce those cultures and races to simple stereotypes: sexy squaw, Mexican landscaper, ghetto fab black chick, Arab terrorist (all costumes I saw while at BC). That can be hurtful to Native Americans who don’t wear headdresses in their everyday lives (almost all of us), Latinos who are not landscapers (me), African Americans who don’t wear Rocawear (me again), Arabs who are not terrorists (also me). It can also be offensive to landscapers and Rocawear-wearers who have complex identities beyond their clothing choices or careers.
 
But this is about more than just hurt feelings. This is about actual marginalization faced by actual people—marginalization that you have never and will never experience by virtue of
not belonging to those cultural groups.  
 
People who dress as stereotypes of cultures whose members were enslaved, murdered en masse, colonized, and imprisoned are mocking people who today still face disproportionately high rates of negative health outcomes, employment discrimination, incarceration, sexual violence, state violence—I could go on (and would be happy to share the supporting research).
 
But guess what: after Halloween, they get to take the costumes off. 
 
As a multiracial person, I can’t remove my skin. I can’t change the fact that when people look at me, they see someone who is less worthy of employment, quality health care, safe housing, equal rights, a fair trial, enfranchisement, freedom from rape, and so on. For me and millions of others who have marginalized identities—that includes not just people of color, but also GLBTQ individuals, religious minorities, people living in poverty, etc.—it is an inescapable reality that we are considered Less Than.
 
So we’re not being “hypersensitive” when we see people mocking our culture through stereotyped costumes. We’re making a clear connection between “jokes” and actual experiences of prejudice, exclusion, and violence. It is because people in power have considered our cultures Less Than and deserving of mockery that they have justified oppressing us.
 
Words have power, Kristy. So do costumes.
 
That’s also why my dressing up as a WASP wouldn’t be the same as a WASP dressing up like me. WASPs were not and are not systematically denied rights and opportunities. As a WASP, you don’t face the same institutional prejudices that I do. We live in a society that privileges and affords power to your identity at my expense. And whether you want to or not, you have benefited from this dynamic. The progress and status your culture has achieved were on the backs of others. The disadvantages I have faced cannot be separated from the advantages they gave you.
 
You reference Montaigne in defense of your position. But did you know Montaigne considered the white, Christian colonizers—not the indigenous peoples who were enslaved and subject to genocide under them—the true savages? How do you think he would feel about costumes that trivialize that legacy of injustice?
 
I learned that at BC. I also learned that history belongs to all of us. We are all responsible for speaking what you call “capital-T Truth” to power. How do you plan to speak Truth to power?
 
You can start by checking your privilege (see Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” if you don’t know what that means). You can seriously reconsider the ideas you put forth in your article. Do you think you’ve done justice to the complex issues of race and racism? Does your position honor and respect people who don’t share your perspective or experiences? Will you simply dismiss this critique as “hypersensitive”?
 
I don’t know anything about you, Kristy. And honestly, I don’t need to: whatever your background, you’re espousing ideas that perpetuate racism, injustice, and systemic oppression. Your article did anger me, Kristy, and according to you, that means I’m thinking.
 
Now it’s your turn.
 
Sincerely,
Lindsey Hennawi
 
The Undersigned, people of color and our allies, who have served as leaders and members of various student organizations, past and present:
 

FACES Council ‘12-’13

Caitlin Moran, A&S ‘11

Titciana Barros, A&S ‘11

Kari O’Neil, CSOM ‘11

Chris Griesedieck, BC ‘11

Hope Sullivan, BC ‘11

Lake Coreth, BC ‘11

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