Monday, November 02, 2009

Racist Halloween Costumes and YRUU

"My mom didn't like my Halloween costume," Beloved Brillient YRUUer said. "And then she followed my friends in the car when we went trick or treating."

"What was your costume?" someone asked.

"I wore a poncho and a sombrero and a little mustache. My girlfriend went as border patrol."

There was silence. Crickets chirped.

"I can see why your mother had a problem with that," I said, also thinking that Mom probably followed BBY in case someone decided that the proper punishment for a punk kid in a racist Halloween costume was an asskicking. Not an unreasonable worry, I'm thinking.

No one else said anything, but the stares that Beloved Brilliant YRUUer got were not friendly ones.

In retrospect, I realize that this was the classic 'teachable moment.'

But I let it pass, at least partially because I was loath to start an entire discussion that would consist of condemning the kid's Halloween costume various ways, even though the costume and the wearer arguably deserved it.

But the more I've thought about it over the last day, the more I have wished that I had started a group discussion on racism. Next weekend, I have a law school thing Sunday morning, so the soonest I will be back in front of the YRUUers is the week after, a day short of a full two weeks after Halloween.

The idea time to start the discussion has passed I know, but how should I handle it from here?

Offer to lead a talk on immigration and focus the discussion on the complexity of the issues? (Possibly too subtle, but still the best alternative I've thought of.)

Actually say, "Hey, I know I didn't say this at the time, but the idea of going for Halloween as a Mexican really bothers me. Can we talk about what that means?" (Puts kid on the spot)

Assume that the Mom already had the talk and that if it didn't get through when she said it, I'm not going to make greater headway. (Cop out)




PG said...

Call the mom and ask whether they've had the discussion. If they have, I think it's OK. If they haven't, and the mom says, "Could you talk to BYY about this? I don't feel like I can articulate well why this was such a problem, but I would really like for someone to bring it up with him," then you can ask her whether it would be OK to do it in a group setting or if a private talk would be better. At least in theory, the mom should know whether the kid will be able to handle a group discussion of his mess-up without feeling completely ganged-up on.

If you're in touch with the kid online, you could also send him this.

uuMomma said...

As the mom of a teenager I would say regardless of whether the mom and the kid had the talk, you making the effort to talk with him about it will backup whatever the mom said. My kids have adults at church they respect and if those adults called them on irresponsible choices, you bet it would make a heckuva difference. They are used to me saying these things to them--I could use the reinforcement. And I would opt to have the discussion in private, at first, as soon as you can. Start by saying "you know, something's troubling me and I don't know if it is what you did or how I responded and I'd like to talk it through with you," and then say something about thinking there's a larger issue there and maybe you could take it back to the group to talk through. By letting him know that you are questioning yourself for not calling him out on it, you are setting a great example of how hard this stuff is to do in the real world--when you question doing it in the safety of the people who are supposed to share your values. Get what I mean?

Unknown said...

I wonder if some older youth and college students who wear these costumes are actually trying to make a statement ABOUT racism? Not to engage in it, but to get people to notice it. Not saying this is the case in your circumstance. Just wondering.

And I agree that it is a teachable moment for the kids, the parent, and those that come in contact with them.

nkjvcjs said...

I think you need to determine what the intent behind the costume was. I see no problem in dressing up in another culture's garmets if you are fascinated by that culture, and intend to honor it. If the intent is to deride then the costume is racist, and we have a problem. If the intent was to make a statement regarding the current immigration situation, and to stimulate discussion amongst his peers, then I think the costume is great, as long as the position held is well researched and considered.

Steven Rowe said...

>There was silence. Crickets chirped.

>"I can see why your mother had a >problem with that,"

>No one else said anything, but the >stares that Beloved Brilliant YRUUer >got were not friendly ones.

Those three things show that a teachable moment was already made.
They were looking for afirmation that what they did was OK, and everyone from peers to adult made a negative response. Can you get more teachable than this?

L said...

I'm all for being as straightforward as possible, partially because I believe the subtleties of "a discussion about racism" are lost on teenagers, who frankly are pretty self-involved. Although I agree with the last commenter that this kid probably got a clue when he got a negative response to his costume, I think I still would address it with him directly. AT the time, I think I would have said "Dude, don't you think that's a little racist?" but now that the moment has passed, maybe something some like of the other people suggested: "I was a bit bothered by your costume because I felt it had racist overtones. Would you wear it in front of your Mexican friends?"

kimc said...

"so, what kind of reactions did you get to your costume?" might be a way to start a discussion two weeks after the fact.

PG said...

I'm not sure it's helpful to label it from the get-go as "that's racist," because it will understandably put him on the defensive. It seems more productive to question him about what idea he and his girlfriend were trying to get across. It's *possible* that nkjvcjs is right and there was actual thoughtful intent behind it. Just not plausible, given that we're talking about a teenager and he made no explication of it when the group reaction was "WTF?"

DairyStateDad said...

I'm torn. About bringing it up again, that is.

When a kid feels ganged up on, it can shut down his or her ability to hear/understand what's really being said, in my experience.

I think it was right for you to say "I can see why your mother had a problem." And I do think there should be some way to bring the general topic back up again.

My gut says to bring it up NOT by talking about the costume thing again directly. Or even indirectly. Or in anyway that singles out the one kid. Come in through the side door. Some ideas:

1) Can you bring in a guest speaker who's an immigrant rights activist to talk about that?

2) Could you get kids to talk about ethnic stereotyping in the media?

(Here are some possibly relevant links. They're about African American stereotypes, but searching on other ethnic groups might be fruitful, too:,,20266223,00.html


There was a humorous documentary in the 80s about black stereotyping in the movies, the name of which I cannot recall.

hafidha sofia said...

Now that some time has passed, maybe BBY has had some time to think about it. Maybe ask BBY how they feel about it? I agree with SC Universalist that the teaching moment might have already happened.

This is my favorite piece about Halloween costumes that I find obnoxious. It's not just race, but other things, too.

curlykidz said...

I think regardless of whether the mother has spoken with the kid, you should raise the subject. It sounds like he's at that age where parents know nothing anyway. And regardless of intent. Racism isn't about the offender's intent, it's about the impact of their actions on others. There's an AWESOME video on my blog post from last week called walking the color(line) that really, really helped me have a conversation with a couple people who deeply offended me by some things that were said part of which were the "people are taking this too seriously" and "everything is so pc" comments.