OK for Halloween ??

Tue, October 24, 2006


In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m VERY protective of Rachel, especially when it comes to anticipating and dealing with difficult issues I know she is going to face because we are an adoptive, transracial family.

This weekend, as I was waking up my little sleepy-head, her eyes barely open and her voice still in sleepy kitten mode, she said:

“Mommy, why is everybody else’s skin peach and mine isn’t?”

They just hit you out of nowhere, don’t they?

Of course, I pointed out that’s not true … there are plenty other skin colors in her world. But there’s no denying that “peach” is the most prevalent, even though our community is pretty diverse, as is our group of friends.

So, I have a sneaky feeling that the next question along these lines is sure to come up at Halloween.

I know at least two girls who are planning on wearing, as their Halloween costumes, a Japanese/Chinese outfit, complete with Asian style dress and headgear. Probably not as bad as the adult at Rachel’s school whose Halloween costume last year was a “China Girl” (as she informed a group of children, including Rachel) — complete with yellow face paint, eyes made up to look slanted and a coolie hat.

I know that Halloween isn’t necessarily about scary costumes and that lots of children, especially girls, like to dress up in pretty, flowy costumes. (At six, you just can’t get enough of the princess-style gear).

And Rachel is no exception — she wants to be Jasmine for Halloween.

So here’s my question — is there a difference between an Asian girl wanting to dress up in the outfit of a pretend Asian-Disney princess and children of non-Asian races wanting to wear a “costume” of real, traditional Asian garb?

One the one hand, if there is no malice behind wearing the costume (or ignorance as with the adult costume), is it OK? Or does it send a hurtful subliminal message to Rachel and others like her that, on Halloween, it’s OK to make a costume out of someone else’s heritage?

I keep going back and forth on this one. How would I feel if I saw a non-African-American child dressing up in traditional African garb? Or a non-Native American dressed with a big feathered headress? (Clearly, the Washington Redskins don’t have a problem with that, but that’s another story).

She may not ask on Halloween or even the day after, but I know how things percolate and ruminate in her little head, so I’m sure she’ll get around to asking sometime soon, “Mommy, why did ____ dress up like a China girl?”

I don’t know yet what I’ going to say, but I know I’d better think fast.

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14 Responses to “OK for Halloween ??”

  1. Mom101 Says:

    I like the idea of traditional native costumes for Halloween, personally. Unless they are in some way derogatory, it seems like a good way to inform other kids about different cultures.

    When I had that call with Mo Gaffney she told me about her son wanting to be a disco 70s guy for halloween complete with afro and…blackface. She had to explain why that would hurt some people’s feelings. I think the yellow face is the same, but I’m not quite sure the rest of it is problematic.

    Just my .02.

  2. Mixter Says:

    My daughter loves Asian culture so much, I’m kind of surprised she never wanted to dress up like a traditional little Japanese or Chinese girl when she was little. I’m not sure how I would’ve handled it. I think I would have let her wear the gear, but I probably would not let her wear any makeup to try to “enhance” her facial features.

    If it’s not meant to be offensive, I guess it’s okay; however, some people are offended more easily than others. How do you know when you’ve crossed that line?


  3. Heather Says:

    You could always put a positive spin on it. I agree that the yellow makeup is a bit much. However, many people are fascinated with the Asian culture. The elegance of the clothes, as well as the pageantry of the customs are intriguing to many people. You can always tell your daughter that people think she is beautiful, like Mulan ( to put it in 6 year old terms). Also, I always retreat to the old reliable, “God made everyone different, so they could be special” statement. Makes it a little more difficult to argue with God! I have a friend who is adopting a Korean boy in the spring. I will be sure to have her visit your blog. Just keep in mind, that an inquisitive child is a sign of intelligence! (However maddening it is to her parents!)

  4. Lawyer Mama Says:

    That’s a hard one. But I guess some people would be offended and some wouldn’t. You never know. ITA with the previous posters that the yellow face make-up was just too much.

  5. Chelsea/Mom Says:

    Very thought-provoking. I love your intelligent Mom blog. I’m in CC, MD….glad to know that there’s a bot more diversity in the sea of Lily Pulitzer. Rock on, mama!

    - Chelsea
    “I’m Somebody’s Mother?”

  6. vasilisa Says:

    Ouch… that’s a tough one. I think when it comes to traditional costumes, it’s the intent that counts… If it’s out of interest in culture or heritage, then by all means… But if it’s to dress up cause “Chinese or Indian or whatever people look funny” than it’s wrong.

    I myself am raising a bicultural kid (Indian/Russian) and am sure will have to answer tough questions one day. Though on the up side, our neighborhood is probably the most mixed one on the planet. So maybe will just sail through that one…

  7. Jenny Says:

    Wow. This post really hit home for me because I’ve dressed up as a geisha girl for halloween before (no yellow face paint though…that seems tacky) and Hailey has an Asian costume too that my sister sent us. I would never even consider that anyone would be offended by it or that it would cause people to question why I would wear it.

    I just love it because it’s beautiful and silky and I also have an Indian sari that I wear for the same reason. I’m czech and it wouldn’t bother me to see someone from a different race wearing a traditional czech dancer outfit…although now that I think about it I would think it was kind of weird.

  8. PunditMom Says:

    Thanks for everyone’s thoughtful comments. I know this is a tough one and I don’t want to make more of it than it is. I guess I’m just going to have to see how R. reacts, if at all, and what questions she raises.

  9. mad muthas Says:

    tricky one, that! of course, she’ll look far better than anyone else in her costume, but it puts it in a completely different context.

  10. Momish Says:

    I think if you just explain to your daughter how Halloween is the one day where people can dress/be different, then she will be more likely to understand where other people are coming from. Dressing as a different culture, hero, era, gender, etc. is all part of the allure. If someone is dressing in an Asian inspired costume, it is because that is different to them. In an exotic and beautiful way, at that. (of course there will always be people with bad taste, but that is another issue in and of itself)

  11. Gunfighter Says:


    I found your blog by way of another, and read this post and would like to offer the following:

    You asked:

    “…if there is no malice behind wearing the costume (or ignorance as with the adult costume), is it OK? Or does it send a hurtful subliminal message to Rachel and others like her that, on Halloween, it’s OK to make a costume out of someone else’s heritage?”

    I think it is OK to wear some sort of costume based on historical or current national dress of another nation/culture… especially for kids. Perhaps we can be a bit more sticky about it in terms of respecting said cultures the older we get.

    By the way, my 7 year old is doing the Chinese Princess thing this year as well.

    “How would I feel if I saw a non-African-American child dressing up in traditional African garb? Or a non-Native American dressed with a big feathered headress?.”

    I’ve seen both of those instances with white kids and black kids in my own neighborhood… I don’t think we should load it with too much importance at this stage… but thats just me.

    Cheers from Northern Virginia!


  12. PunditMom Says:

    Momish, Mad Muthas, and Gunfighter, thanks for your additional thoughts. I’ve really appreciated everyone’s perspective on this and hope everyone enjoyes their Halloween!

  13. Steve Says:

    I remember a party, years ago, when a non-Asian, female friend dressed up as a geisha, complete with the white makeup. Another friend, this one Asian, had been bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t think of a costume. As a joke, I pointed out the “geisha” and told him he should have coloured his hair light, put on pale makeup, and come as a nerdy Caucasian…now the strange part was HE was offended by my comment/joke. Go figure.

    I guess it’s all a matter of perspective…or intent.

    If you are black and dress up as a white, nerdy, techy guy (with pocket protector, etc) and pale makeup…would that be racist? If not, what about a white guy dressed up like a cannibal, replete with black makeup and a finger bone necklace?

    Like mixter asks: how do you know when you have crossed that line? It has to boil down to intent.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    When I was young I actually dressed up as a rural Mexican, or, rather, the stereotype of one including poncho and sombrero. In light of current events, that may be a bit out of fashion; however as a child, I was oblivious. Now that I’m older, I understand how the intention could be misunderstood.

    I think the idea is to keep in mind that the point of Halloween is to dress up as something outlandish. The more outlandish, the better when viewed through the eyes of a child. That being said, compared to our rather ubiquitous daily uniforms, asian/indian/african/etc dress make for some truly stellar costumes for a child. The appeal is easy to see as the complex designs and colors entice the eye. I would think nothing of the fact that a child wishes to choose these costumes.

    When they get older, it’s a much different story IMO

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