The scariest costume you can wear this Halloween is ‘racism’

Published: October 30, 2015
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Walmart recently came under fire for putting up on its website, costumes that are more than just borderline racist. PHOTO: SCREENSHOT

A fake ‘Sheikh’ nose, blackface, and a Mexican sombrero? Let me guess: you’re going to that Halloween party tonight as a ‘Howling Racist’.

Halloween has little relevance to the lives of most Pakistani people. It is celebrated in certain elite quarters, while the rest of us wonder what scarcity of spookiness there is in this country that needs to be compensated for with a few extra zombie masks. For those who participate, I may have a Gullu Butt costume to lend out, if you ask nicely.

But it is an important tradition in much of the Western world, particularly the United States. And there is no opportunity too small for people to consciously, or through sheer ignorance, make a show-stealing display of racism.

Walmart and Amazon recently came under fire for putting up on its website, costumes that are more than just borderline racist. These included a Osama Bin Laden mask, a large, fake, “Sheikh Fagan” nose that comes with a headdress, or keffiyeh, as well as a stereotypically Mexican “little amigo” costume.

To Walmart’s credit, these costumes were removed from the website, followed by an apology. However, the tradition persists.

Many years ago, I had a good fortune of visiting Chicago, and attending a Halloween party with a friend. From the sea of unimaginative costumes, emerged a white middle-aged man in a white kurta, off-white khakis passed off as a shalwar, and a fake bushy, unkempt beard.

He was a friend of my friend. I asked him who he was pretending to be. He dropped a hint in the form of a brief performance: shaking his fist and shouting gibberish.

He was “Rage Boy”, the internet meme.

Whether or not he was being racist, is for the reader to think about. All I know, is the humiliation that I felt in the moment when he laughed and asked me – me specifically for some reason – if he looked “authentic”.

Visiting a post-9/11 America, I was advised by my family not to wear traditional Pakistani clothing. It was an unnecessary warning as I don’t ordinarily wear shalwar kameez anyway, but clearly something had been going on in America for them to redundantly counsel me on the issue.

I felt cheated.

I, as an actual Pakistani person of Kashmiri heritage, could not walk through airport security looking like that without being scanned twice. My Muslim friend couldn’t sit in a bus looking like that, without attracting uncomfortable glances. We had to lock our Pakistani-ness away in a box to avoid unwanted attention, and conduct our business around the city in blue jeans and baseball caps, because for a myriad of small reasons, it seemed far more convenient.

Meanwhile, that white man stood before me, flamboyantly dressed up as a Kashmiri Muslim. For fun. Spilling beer on his fake beard as he rhythmically waved his red plastic cup to reggae music.

I did not drop the ‘R’ bomb at the party, as I was unsure of what it was. But I was still acutely uncomfortable with the idea of someone’s race, culture, or ethnicity being put on like a costume for a night of wild fun, without all the fear, stigma and history that comes with it.

Must be nice.

Little has changed over the years. On All Hallow’s Eve, there will once again be parties of people wearing comically large fake noses, pretending to be Arabs. There will be white women wearing Indian dresses, straight out of Mughal-e-Azam. There will be people wearing blackface, pretending to be ‘Crazy Eyes’ from Orange is the New Black series.

After all, Halloween is all about being scary. And nothing petrifies people of colour like racially privileged men and women appropriating our cultures, while simultaneously telling us to tone down our ‘ethnic’ behaviours so we may assimilate better in their world.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Videlicet

    In some places you sound too eager to take offence. In other places justly so.

    “nothing petrifies […] in their world.”– interesting and thought provoking.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Is I wear a blonde wig and a fake nose, is that racism too? What is racist about an Arab mask?Recommend

  • Skywalker

    Grow up and be tolerant. Muslims are NOT a race.Recommend

  • Guy

    Though I agree with the author but only to some extent. The world where we live in people draw conclusions & everyone is painted with the same brush. Though a non Muslim, I have experienced it as such but I think the author is taking it too seriously. Arabs & other Muslims being centre of attraction these days are definitely drawing attention. But we need to take it cool & let it go down. But as South Asians are really very sensitive people it’s difficult to imagine what & what not will hurt them.Recommend

  • ajeet

    Racism is how the Arabs treat their South Asian laborers.Recommend

  • Alam

    Lets go point by point………

    I, as an actual Pakistani person of Kashmiri heritage, could not walk through airport security looking like that without being scanned twice.

    >>>My first question to you is do you know kashmiri or have you ever been taught kashmiri in your kashmir since am a kashmiri too………

    My Muslim friend couldn’t sit in a bus looking like that, without attracting uncomfortable glances.

    >>>So u dont have a friend…You have a muslim friend..Why did u find a need to mention here that your friend is/was a muslim…was the thing related to your culture or your religion.secondly, i think all these people dont have any relation with pakistan unless you consider yourself from the ancestors of arab land..

    We had to lock our Pakistani-ness away in a box to avoid unwanted attention, and conduct our business around the city in blue jeans and baseball caps, because for a myriad of small reasons, it seemed far more convenient.

    There country,there rule…just like u have declared people who are non-muslim to be a less human being…why cant a christian become prime minister of pakistan if he can improve life of pakistan people rather than muslim sharifs and bhuttos…..Recommend

  • Chitral wala

    This is a pathetic. This comment is ridiculous. Could be a hindu
    masquerading as a ‘Muslim’ to get desperate attention. Happens on ET.
    About par for trolls from across Pak’s eastern border. Since Paks just skip
    the poisonous vitriolic comments spewed by these “citizens of the eastern neighbor”….whew!Recommend

  • lathi-charge

    If I wear a yarmulke with bulbous honker is that racist ?Recommend

  • Jayman

    Exactly what was “ridiculous”? Did the truth hit a sore spot?Recommend

  • Idkfahmmanzjusttrynacomment

    Jeeeeeeez 20 bucks for a bin laden mask? Walmart be cray styllRecommend

  • Noman Ansari

    What the hell was this comment? Are you illiterate?Recommend

  • Chitral wala

    Ever notice when the wind blows from the East,…Paks have
    to hold their noses, and breath through the mouth? To avoid
    the stench emanating from across the Eastern border?Recommend

  • ghilman

    I’ll extrapolate a bit:

    “My first question to you is do you know kashmiri or have you ever been taught kashmiri in your kashmir since am a kashmiri too”

    1) You are denying that the author is a Kashmiri, probably proscribing to a narrow elitist view of what a Kashmiri is, i.e Urdu speaking, Potohari speaking, etc people can not be Kashmiri.

    “So u dont have a friend…You have a muslim friend”
    “was the thing related to your culture or your religion”

    2) YES, The friend being Muslim was an integral part of why he was discriminated against. Some Sikhs are discriminated too but precisely because they are mistaken for Muslims. It is not a stretch to say that being Muslim makes you more likely to be discriminated against.

    You completely miss the point and try to paint the author as a bigot and go on a rant about how Muslims should be Arab or something, trying to paint it as a racial identity.

    As for non-Muslims, not being able to run for office is a completely valid question but this has nothing to do with the topic at hand and is a form of cheap whataboutism.Recommend

  • Jayman

    That is the stink of consuming corpses from the grave. Maybe a little less inbreeding will endow some IQ. Spare the sisters.Recommend

  • Chitral wala

    Good thing you mention the females. Last survey indicated
    there are 700 women for every 1000 men in Hindustan. The
    remaining females, are desperately trying to leave.
    If the Bharati Janata keeps up the female infanticide, pretty soon, no more new Hindus will be produced. Bad karma.
    Sad..that ..well..er..see…no wonder! There! You have it!
    That’s why Bharat is called the rape Capital of the World. See?Recommend