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Why Do Racist Halloween Costumes Still Get a Pass?

Yes, this is about the sexy Handmaid costume.

Samira Wiley in The Handmaid's Tale (2017)

Last week, I spent an inordinate amount of time yelling about Yandy’s sexy Handmaid’s Tale Halloween costumes and their decision to pull the outfit from their site.

At first, I considered that decision a victory, before being reminded of the fact that in all my raging against the machine that was those costumes, I had overlooked the fact that Yandy also sells incredibly racist costumes (ranging from “Indian Costumes” to “Voodoo Costumes”) as well, and there has not been a major push to have those taken down. We featured a tweet on this topic in Saturday’s Things We Saw, but this is something that merits a deeper discussion, because as Michael Che joked at the Emmys, oppression is only bad when it happens to white women.

Halloween is a season where a lot of people, namely white people, feel the need to dress up in incredibly offensive costumes, many of which are sold at popular Halloween retailers. And this isn’t just a handful of people; every year, articles on how to not engage with cultural appropriation are written because this is a problem that keeps on popping up without fail.

Teen Vogue did a stellar video on culturally appropriative costumes last year, and ends it with this powerful summary of what the women in the video speak about: “Most importantly, listen to their message. These costumes aren’t funny and harmless; cultural appropriation isn’t senseless outrage. It’s a painful, dehumanizing attack on their culture, their history, their very existence. And it should have no place in our society — at Halloween and beyond.”

And Yandy is a purveyor of costumes for those who wish to really dig into their privileged side. A quick pass through their website — something I admittedly should’ve done when I first wrote this piece — shows a variety of offensive costumes that definitely should not be sold, ranging from offensive “Tiger Lily” costumes to a wide array of geisha costumes (there’s also a sexy school girl section which isn’t appropriative but just plain gross).

But as plenty of people on Twitter have pointed out, now that the sexy Handmaid’s costume is taken down, no one cares about the rest of the site. The costume that is offensive to white women is now gone, so that’s all that matters; the culturally appropriative costumes can stay because they’re only making light of something that does not directly affect white feminists. The fact that we accept racially insensitive costumes as the norm is deeply troubling, and something we need to stop letting slide.

A quick Google search turned up a piece on sixteen offensive Halloween costumes from last year. The costumes range from the bad to the downright racist, and guess what? Yandy is the seller behind many of them. Why hasn’t this site been protested more? Why haven’t we seen more movements to get them to take down their offensive costumes? Is it because most of the costumes are just culturally appropriative, and therefore something that more people just accept at face value?

This is a problem. Let’s not be like Britta in season three of Community, saying that we can excuse racism but draw the line at animal cruelty (or in this case, sexy Handmaid’s Tale Halloween costumes). If we’re going to push back against a costume which is a really bad idea (because let’s be real, a sexy Offred is a terrible idea), we need to push back at costumes that are racist as well. We cannot just take one stand and then ignore other battles.

Consider this article to be two things. First, an apology for not including Yandy’s racism in my initial pieces on the subject; I should’ve done more research instead of just focusing on that one particular costume. Secondly, a reminder to my fellow white women that we need to stop just caring about issues that only affect us. The Handmaid’s Tale is a pretty great example of this because it’s mostly about white women being oppressed; plus, if we only care about how society’s ingrained prejudices affect us, then we’re no better than Serena Joy.

There’s been a #CancelYandy hashtag going around Twitter since the site gained notoriety for the sexy Handmaid costume. Go read the tag, and retweet women talking about the costumes. And for the love of all that is good, please consider your Halloween costume carefully, because if you protest the Handmaid’s costume and then dress up in something offensive, you are part of the problem too.

(Image: Hulu)

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Kate (she/her) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions she has. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, she is now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for her favorite rare pairs.