Opinion by Dominic Furer
Ah, Halloween…A day to dress up; a day to become someone you aren’t; a day of partying and taking on a different form. I always enjoyed Halloween as a child, mostly for the candy and the opportunity to run around at night with my friends and family. The holiday always came as second nature to me.
Men and women in cheap synthetic togas and cleopatra wigs parade down the streets. You may hear a fuzzy speaker blaring the song “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles as they move past, usually in troupes. The ridiculousness of it all seemed natural; like Halloween, a day that’s different yet seemingly customary in the eyes of the New World — natural, but fake. I always loved how fake it was.
But, as I grew older, I realized that the holiday was harboring a dark and unfortunate secret. Only when you push aside the cheap frumpy fabrics and cakey makeup does the sad truth become apparent.
I first noticed the way my culture was being used when I was fairly young — perhaps 10. I thought it was strange how people would drape themselves in robes and wear brown plastic wigs with ends long and dramatically curled to resemble payes. What didn’t make sense to me at the time was why they all looked the same. Surely people knew that not all Rabbis looked like Orthodox Jews? ‘Do people even know that not all Orthodox Jews look the same?’ I had wondered. In time, I stumbled upon the answer: they knew, but simply did not care.
Once I was old enough to understand, I was also offended. But, I realized that Judaism was far from being the only culture blatantly stereotyped during Halloween. The cultures and traditional garbs of Indigenous Americans, Hispanic subcultures, various religious groups and so on are seen as nothing more than a costume — something to throw on for a laugh or sexual appeal.
This conversation bears mentioning the rampant sexualization of the kimono. One may be surprised to learn that traditionally a kimono is a very modest garment, with a high neck and fine fabric that falls as low as the ankles. As stated in Akemi Johnson’s article in The Guardian on July 3, 2019, “…the picture that would draw men inside, the epitome of desire, was the woman in the kimono — and an erotic style of kimono that doesn’t exist.”
As a child, I remember the joy I felt when my mother brought home a Japanese princess costume. It included a flimsy piece of fabric to be used as a belt, a black wig, fake chopsticks and even little earrings to add to the mystique. I wore it with felt butterfly wings I’d found in my closet. I considered it a killer Halloween costume.
What I hadn’t considered, however, was the implications of the costume. What right did I have as a Jewish boy to wear such a traditional garment? What did that say about the garment? What did that say about me? I was seven-years-old at the time and I hold nothing against my past self for twirling around in the mirror with my Spirit Halloween kimono. I didn’t know any better, and that was the problem.
If I had only known what sort of impact, what sort of message my costume put out into the world, I simply wouldn’t have worn it. People want to be good, I have found. If you explain to someone what sort of impact their actions will have, they likely will change course. Most people don’t wake up one day and say, “I want to wear the spiritual clothing of minorities as a costume with the intention of presenting myself as something humorous or sexual.” They’re simply uninformed.
I decided to end this column by highlighting the importance of education. It may sound silly to some, or come off as pretentious to leave such a piece with the sentiment of learning more and growing — but, it’s truly as simple as that. And, the best part is: It’s easy! There are many people who are sharing their stories in hopes that others will learn from them. It is our job to listen.We can all try a little harder to make people feel more comfortable and respected on Halloween.