This Halloween, with regular white people dressing up as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, sushi chefs, and bloodied Asiana pilots, and celebrity white people like Julianne Hough donning blackface (and being defended!) it makes one long for the simpler days when we used to complain about someone's "too sexy" costume. While the "too sexy" costume became a gripe for the past couple of years, 2013 is different. This year was marked by racist costumes, apologies for racist costumes, and some white writers defending these costumes and telling minorities how little they should be offended — all making for a pretty bummer year for anyone rooting for the American empathy for race in this country. Here's a brief guide:
Pottery Barn's Sushi Chef and Kimono
The Costume: A red kimono, which comes with a sushi chef costume for the couple that wants to do a "couple's" outfit.
The Defense No One Asked For: Karol Markowicz in The New York Post explains that anyone should be able to wear a kimono costume without Asian people bringing them down. "It’s hard to argue when someone says they’re offended, but it’s just not right that these costumes are deemed racist when they plainly aren’t," writes Markowicz. "A kimono is traditional Japanese dress. Is a kilt, the traditional Scottish outfit, also offensive?" she asks.
Why That Defense Doesn't Work: Asian American groups have no problem with people dressing in kimonos. If the spirit moves someone to honor Japanese culture and put on a kimono, then so be it. The problem is that kimonos aren't costumes. "Our problem is not with the attire itself; it is with the fact that Pottery Barn is marketing these outfits as costumes," wrote Ling Woo Liu, the director for strategic communications for Asian Americans Advancing justice. Liu cited the mantra, "We're a culture, not a costume."
Julianne Hough's Blackface
The Costume: Hough dressed as a character from the hit Netflix show, Orange Is the New Black.
The Defense No One Asked For: Thought Catalog published a piece from
an expert on race Kelly Rheel, a part-time esthetician, which roughly explains the history of blackface and argues that Hough's darkening of her skin wasn't offensive. "[I]s your average person, like in real life, who’s just going about their day, actually upset about this? Because no one I’ve spoken to personally seems to think it’s that big of a deal," Rheel wrote.
Why That Defense Doesn't Work: Many people who Rheel didn't speak to were offended.
The Trayvon Martin & George Zimmerman Duo
The Costume: It's pretty gross, and luckily they have t-shirts just in case you were confused.
Apology? Hard to find one, but the people pictured have started to delete their social media accounts.
The Defense No One Asked For: It doesn't Exist. People, including both Rheel and Markowicz, think this was pretty racist and classless.
The Bloodied Asiana Pilots
The Costume: After the Asiana crash-landing in San Francisco this summer, a news station ran with an erroneous story that names which were made to make fun of the pilots and their Asian heritage (i.e. "Sum Ting Wong"). Some people went there even though people had died in that crash.
Apology? Not yet/ hard to find one.
The Defense No One Asked For: Sometimes you don't wanna look for these things.
And More Blackface...
The Costume(s): The Utah Jazz though putting someone in black face and dressing them like Karl Malone was a good idea; and famous fashion designers decided wearing blackface to an Africa-themed party.
The Defense No On Asked For: Just don't. Please don't make us look. Please let us believe that people know this is just a dumb idea.
And so, well, there's always 2014, right?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.