Can your white child dress as their favorite Black athlete or superhero?
Should you daughter dress as Moana if she’s not Hawaiian? Can your son dress as Aladdin if he’s not Middle Eastern? What if your white child wants to dress up as Kobe Bryant?
To break it down, we called in Dr. Zabina “Zee” Bhasin, MD, diversity and inclusion expert, and founder of In Kidz. Below, she discusses common kids costumes and their potential issues.
“It’s important to distinguish the costume from the culture,” explains Dr. Zee. “Yes, your white child can dress in his favorite Black athlete’s jersey, but blackface is forbidden. Jersey = Costume. Skin color = Culture.
“Another example is wearing chopsticks in your hair. Chopsticks are eating utensils, not fashion, and wearing them is disrespectful. For me, so is Bindi or Henna, despite the fact that so many pop artists are choosing to appropriate the South Asian culture.”
In the case of Moana and Aladdin, most store bought costumes are appropriate, but Maui and Jasmine can prove problematic. “There are aspects of Maui’s character that are not appropriate to include in a costume. For instance, his iconic tattoos. They are more than designs – they are sacred to Hawaiian culture.
“If your child want to dress up like Maui, the tattoos should be avoided. Simply explain that those tattoos have a special meaning to people from Hawaii, and people who do not have those tattoos in real life should not pretend to have them on Halloween.”
Sporting sacred tattoos is no different than using brown makeup to paint the color of your child’s skin to match Maui’s.
“In the case of Princess Jasmine, the iconic turquoise outfit is absolutely fine,” says Dr. Zee, “but avoid adding a hijab like Jasmine wears in certain parts of the movie. Hijabs are not a costume; they represent a culture and custom.
If your child chooses any costume with a cultural component, it’s a wonderful opportunity to talk about that culture. Discuss what makes it special, the special candy of the culture, and the different holidays the character might celebrate. Use Halloween as an introduction to the traditions of others.”
Thank you, Dr. Zee!
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.
Zabina Bhasin is a physician, mom of two, and founder of In Kidz -- a lifestyle brand dedicated to empowering children with cultural awareness. You can find her at inkidzco.com.