Blackface And Black Face on Halloween: There Is a Difference [Opinion]

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I write this knowing full well that you might walk away hating me. For the trolls out there, you can hit me up on Twitter at @TooMuchMe, and I would be delighted to engage. Here it goes.

Ever since I was a little kid, Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. Beyond the candy, the pumpkins, and the 11-year-old all-nighters, the folklore of the tradition has always resonated with me. Let's think about where Halloween came from first.

At its roots, Halloween comes from the Celtic festival of Samhain that would take place between October 31 and November 1. It marked a night where the spirits and fairies could easily enter our world. During this night the souls of the dead are said to revisit their homes and walk among the living.


The tradition is so easy and exciting for a child to embrace because of its emphasis on breaking down the barriers of our existence and identity. If you want to be a ghost or a vampire, well, you can go be a freaking vampire. And if you want to be a princess, you can suit right up.

It is the one designated time of the year where we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and mind. It's a practice that is both fun, and in many cases informative.

It is for this reason I fear that calls for instituting a moratorium on any kind of face-painting and racial or ethnic depictions for Halloween are, regardless of good intention, flawed.

Simply put, I am against blackface, but I am not necessarily against painting your face black.


Stay with me, please.

The disgusting American tradition of blackface thrived on robbing individuals of their humanity, and lumping them together as a nameless personification of a stereotype. And herein lies the issue of playing dress and paint-up: a nameless representation of any culture or people will always offend somebody.


But what about costumes depicting an individual of another race?

I believe that every society deserves to have a day of chaos and confusion, a day in which we don’t take things so seriously, and in which we can be who we want to be, if only for a few hours. And to me that day is Halloween.


If a child chooses to be someone of another race, and is preemptively banned from the prospect of accurately representing that person, what kind of message does that send?

I like to think that we are getting closer and closer to a world where it is normal to have children looking up to role models who look different from themselves. And in some instances that person’s skin tone is an essential part of why we respect them in the first place. Why then, would we tell anyone that they can’t play the game, that they can’t live out the fantasy for a moment?


It’s not the adults that I worry about, but the message we might be sending to children. As we grow older, we start to understand the complexities and the histories behind race in this country, and it is a sad reality. But where an adult might see offense, a child might see effort, and in many cases that effort is far from racist.

Take, for instance, the photo that set off much of this debate: actress Julianne Hough dressed as Crazy Eyes of Orange is the New Black, caught on camera with her face painted black. I will not call this blackface, because its intention was not to ridicule or belittle the plight of African Americans.


While actress Uzu Aduba, who plays Crazy Eyes, has remained silent about the incident, co-star Laverne Cox spoke to Entertainment Weekly about it recently.

"I think it's great she likes our show,” she said. “I’m not opposed to someone having their form of expression… but I think it’s important to understand the historical context you are walking into.”


Point taken. But the bigger point is that she wanted to be Crazy Eyes. She loved the show, and she wanted to portray the character accurately.

So yes, maybe Hough did it out of ignorance, as Cox said. Maybe she did not fully understand the historical context.


But she did understand the context of Halloween. And that means that there are no rules. This Thursday, you can be anyone you like.

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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