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Halloween: the holiday when racism is OK

I dread Halloween like the plague. Each year, while my friends all get super into creating clever costumes, I just spend all of October panicking.

It’s not that I’m not stoked on costumes and dressing up – I like clever costumes just as much as the next person. I’m just petrified of inevitably realizing that the people I hang out with are racist.

Halloween seems to be that holiday when society embraces racist, classist and sexist jokes with giant, open arms.

You – wearing the hillbilly costume or the “white trash” pregnant teen – do you hate poor people? Or you – in the “Indian” costume or dressed up as Pocahantas – how do you feel about residential schools?

Each year, I am amazed at the level that costume bigotry goes. After 9-11, I’m sure everyone attended at least one party where a white person donned a beard and a headscarf and claimed they were Osama bin Laden.

Muslims across the country were facing extreme levels of racism and islamophobia, but dressing up as Osama is still funny right?

I’ve seen a myriad of costumes donned by people in bad taste, and bad faith, but each year I’m still shocked when Halloween comes around and someone has thought of something even more offensive than the year before.

This year’s award for most offensive costume probably goes to the “illegal alien” costume that had to be pulled from the shelves after immigrant rights groups complained. The costume, complete with alien mask, orange jumpsuit with “illegal alien” printed across the chest, and fake citizenship papers, plays on the term “alien” often used to describe people without legal status in a country. The costume was pulled last week from the shelves in American department stores Target and Walgreens. Ebay is also banning the costume for promoting hate.

Wearing an illegal alien costume doesn’t seem so bad when you’re privileged enough to have status, but for those people living without status in Canada, their reality is a horror they don’t get to take off at the end of the night.

Undocumented workers are often people whose refugee claims have been denied, a reality for more and more Canadians. Over the past 20 years, the number of refugee claims accepted has dropped by half, according to immigrants rights organization No One is Illegal (Toronto).

Immigration policy is becoming increasingly harsh in Canada, with new visa requirements introduced specifically for people coming from Mexico and the Czech Republic, and an increase in temporary worker programs.

Undocumented and migrant workers often have little recourse against exploitation such as below minimum wages, unsafe working conditions and unlawful termination. In some cases, workers often have their documentation held by their employer and face physical and emotional abuse.

This past spring, the Canada Border Services Agency conducted several raids in Southern Ontario, picking up hundreds of undocumented workers on their way to work, in their homes, and even when they went to pick up their children from school.

Undocumented workers and their families are found throughout our communities. There are likely people without status at the Halloween bash you’re planning to attend. I don’t think they’d appreciate the alien pun you know.

I’m all for having fun and playing pretend for a day, but I think donning poncho and sombrero Mexican costumes, or crystal ball and bangles gypsy costumes, when the government just made new laws against Mexican and Roma immigrants is just poor taste.

Kaley Kennedy
Kaley Kennedy
Kaley was Opinions Editor for Volume 142 of the Gazette.

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