Weezy F. Baby, and the “F” stands for “f**kery”
They’re familiar characters in the debate over controversial Halloween costumes: suicide bombers, geishas, gangsta rappers, rednecks and half-nekkid nurses.
Such costumes regularly draw allegations of racism, sexism or insensitivity. But where do fully-clothed folk legends fit in?
American Apparel featured characters on both ends of the spectrum this month in its annual do-it-yourself Halloween costume guide. Below a collection of pin-up girl costumes — including a model donning a breast-baring serape — was “La Llorona,” the ghostly weeping woman who kidnaps wandering children, according to folklore in parts of Latin America.
True, she was wearing a lace bustier under a shawl, but the layers upon layers make her appear more like the haunted bag lady than a naughty spirit.
It’s the folk legend’s cultural significance — and the lack of skin, save an inch of midriff — that, for some, make this costume more acceptable than half-nekkid señoritas or Mexican tequila guy.
There is a difference between playing dress-up and poking fun at people’s culture.
“One is mythology, and the other is a stereotype that comes with a lot of baggage,” said feminist blogger Veronica Arreola, assistant director of the Center for Research on Women and Gender at University of Illinois at Chicago.
It’s like dressing up as the Greek goddess Athena and paying tribute to a specific character instead of impersonating a stereotype that doesn’t represent the culture as a whole, she said.
“La Llorona is a folk tale, our bogeyman, our witch from our culture. That as a costume is better than the idea of someone dressing up in a sombrero or poncho and deciding ‘I’m Mexican today!’” Arreola said.
Lord knows we’ve seen plenty of white folks with “I’m from the hood” costumes on.
It’s an argument similar to the one an Ohio University student group made last year in its “We’re a culture, not a costume” campaign that spoke out against dressing up as racial and ethnic stereotypes. The campaign went viral, generating memes often more offensive than the original images and sparking debate over the line between distasteful and playful.
The response prompted the group, Students Teaching About Racism in Society, to refresh its campaign this year. In response to criticism that the campaign did not incorporate a “Caucasian stereotype,” the group added a new image of an “Appalachian costume” representing “hick” stereotypes, said Ohio University senior and STARS President Keith Hawkins.
“[We] decided to continue with the posters because we agreed that they were not only successful last year but actually made a difference on campus and in the global community,” he said. “We were told by many professors that students wanted to talk about it, and this is exactly what we were looking to do. So we hoped we could put out another strong campaign this year that will continue the message of racial awareness and inclusively.”
“When the costume portrays a hero or legend in general, I would say it is not offensive,” he said. “It is the act of either using the hero or legend (or constructing a separate costume) that over-exaggerates negative stereotypes that often stigmatize marginalized cultures that makes the costume offensive.”
On the flizzip, check out the students’ campaign posters as well as some the most egregiously offensive “Halloween costumes” we could find.