I have a friend and I know you think it's me, so go ahead and think it because my kid does stuff like this all the time. Kids are basically raw humans who go around revealing humanity's innermost, universal embarrassing thoughts. "MOM, I maked poop because of the broccoli!" Etcetera. Anyway, my friend's daughter has spent the past few Halloweens getting really into her costumes. She was a ghost one year and smeared her face with white paint and wore a sheet. Another year she was Abby Cadabby and went all out with pink sparkles on her face. This year? She wants to go as Doc McStuffins, the Disney-created black veterinarian, and is demanding to paint her white face brown. [Collective white people cringe.] Her mom has the good sense to ask around advice on how to tell your child no, you cannot dress up in blackface.
Look, you don't have to get all into race issues and oppression or go destroying anyone's innocence at seeing the people around her as anything but a group of Talls and Shorts with various other differences in appearance who are all basically the same. (Except cat people, they're totally different than us, kids. They are under the command of tiny fur balls that don't even bark at intruders.)
All you have to say as your kid flails about demanding to don sensitive racial triggers for Halloween is, "iPad time!" No. What you say is that when portraying a human character, we don't change the color of our skin. It's okay to change your skin color with imaginary creatures, like ghosts or talking cars and . . . whatever that furry thing Abby Cadabby is supposed to be. (Monster? Flying ginger?) But when it comes to dressing up like real people or characters who represent real human beings, we don't change our skin color for the costume. People skin is already people-skin colored. No need to change it.
My kids accept hard and fast rules when it comes to stuff like this. It makes them feel like experts to regurgitate it to other kids. Can you hear their tiny, knowing mouths saying, "we ALWAYS buckle our seat belt"? My kids inherited smugness.
Maybe your child needs more explanation. "But Doc McStuffins is a cartoon! But I want to look just like DocMcStuffins!" For this, you could phrase it that people are more than their skin. Doc McStuffins isn't who she is because she's has a brown face; she is who she is because she helps stuffed animals get their creepy button eyeballs back. She looks how she looks by the way she styles herself - lab coat, purple headband, pedalpushers from the Gap etc. All those fabulous things that have to do with the rest of your costume? THAT'S the real DocMcStuffins, not her skin color. I mean, for all we know she also has corns on her feet and eats asparagus every night for dinner and you don't want to take the costume that far, do you, little one? We don't have to cut your real hair into side part bangs that swoop like the Ocean Spray logo.
If you want to get super arty about it, tell your budding character actor that portrayal is interpretation, not necessarily exact sameness. How many different Santas do you see out there? Wait. Toddlers. Bad example. Tell me little Timmy, how many different James Bonds have there been? See! One of them was blonde! They don't all undergo facial reconstruction surgery and glue identical hair on their man bits. It's art, man.
Things that are okay to incorporate into a costume based on a person or character of another race:
Still confused? Here are some great examples of non-offensive costumes depicted by people of other races.
Remember, it's okay to go as someone of another race for Halloween, but it's not okay to go as a race for Halloween.
Examples of ok:
- Doc McStuffins
- Princess Jasmine
- Little Bill
Examples of not okay:
- Black people
- Native Americans
- Whiteys (wait, if you are already white, that's hilarious. Go for it.)
Brief side story, then I'm done: Back in my cool girl days of middle school, I went as Pat. I stuffed a pillow under my shirt and got a curly unisex wig. All the other girls showed up dressed as cheerleaders and prom queens. There was a hooker in the mix, as this was the era of Pretty Woman. And there I was, hilarious as hell and I'd never change it. I do a pretty rad Pat impression. Ask me anytime.
UPDATE TO END ALL UPDATES: Julia Sweeney who played Pat on SNL lives in my suburb. Mind = blown. I better keep my curly wig in my car in case I run into her at the Jewel.
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