Stores Peddling 'Illegal Alien' Costumes for Halloween

As we gear up for Halloween festivities, I’d like to take a quick moment to reflect on three things Halloween means to me. Number one, it’s a fun way to escape the daily routine and be creative and silly. Number two, we live in a culture of fear and Halloween allows most of us to experience fear in relative safety. Last but not least, Halloween equals candy, and candy conjures up happy memories from my childhood.

While this short list might not ring true for everyone, most Americans have positive childhood memories of gorging themselves on sweets and trick or treating with friends (I once dressed up as a Reese’s peanut butter cup wrapper and was very pleased to rack up over 30 pieces of that same treat!)

And now, back to my point. Halloween is many things to many people, but Halloween is not an excuse to be racist, sexist, or homophobic. Unfortunately, the racists, bigots, and misogynists among us often feel it’s a free pass to act out opinions or beliefs in ways they normally wouldn’t.

It was just two years ago that then Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, Julie Myers, got herself into a pickle when she awarded “most original costume” to a staff member dressed up as an “escaped Jamaican prisoner” in blackface with fake dreadlocks. Not only was he an employee dressed up as a prisoner in blackface. He was an employee of Homeland Security dressed up as an immigrant prisoner in blackface. How is that okay, anywhere? Myers didn’t help matters when she said she was “shocked” to learn the employee had altered his skin tone. Needless to say as soon as Obama took office she resigned.

Those of you out shopping for a costume might have noticed a particularly disturbing one on shelves this year called the “illegal alien”. It is sold as both a mask of a dark skinned man with green eyes, black mustache, and baseball cap, and a full body orange jumper with a green card. While Target and Toys R US have stopped selling the costumes (thanks in part to a successful campaign by the United Farm Workers), Amazon and other online costume stores still carry it. In an already hostile environment, perpetuating this kind of racist, anti-immigrant hate is unacceptable.

Hate crimes targeting Latinos have increased 40 percent since 2003, according to the most recent FBI statistics. This sharp rise in violence against Latinos has paralleled the spike in anti-immigrant propaganda on both the right-wing extremist margins of society and within the mainstream media. To see detailed reporting on these crimes click here.

Some argue that Halloween is a time to throw societal standards out the window and pick costumes regardless of their meaning. And if our American standards were higher I might agree. But if our colleagues and neighbors get away with racism and bigotry on Halloween, what will that mean for us the rest of the year? That’s a nightmare I don’t want to experience.

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