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What Not To Wear–Halloween Edition

October 31, 2009


One notable thing during Halloween is how Americans–and especially White Americans–think that the holiday gives them license to dress up in various racial and ethnic “costumes” in a manner they wouldn’t dare do any other time.

This is basically a politically correct form of racial black/brown/yellowface that mainstream America indulges in.

So in honor of this year’s Halloween, here is a holiday version of “What Not To Wear.” 


The “Kung Fool” mask. Idiot puns + racist mask = hours of Halloween hilarity!  


The “China Man” costume. Freak and Easy.


The “Fee Ling You” Mask. Get it? Fee Ling You/Feeling you? Also, check out the blurb on the side of the ad with the racial references to fortune cookies and take-out orders. That is so frigging funny! Not.


The “Fee Ling You” mask, part 2. More American stupidity.


An all-time favorite, the Geisha Girl yellowface costume. Orientalist exoticization has never been so fun!


Or how about “Teen Asian Dragon Lady” costume? Miley Cyrus has got nothing on this costume in terms of racial drag.


But wait. Even your dog can join in all the Halloween fun with this “Chinese restaurant takeout box” costume for your favorite canine.

I have primarily focused on racist costumes of Asian people, but other minorities are not free from this kind of thing either. Here are a couple of minor examples:


The “Illegal Alien” costume. An oh-so clever take on (Latino) immigrants in America.


The “Rasta Dredlock” wig costume. Hey mon, even White people can be cool (runnings) now.

At base, all these costumes are just a modern-day version of Minstrelsy, that proud American tradition of racist mockery that brought us Stepin Fetchit and Charlie Chan.

And because these types of Halloween minstrel costumes are all the rage for some White people, here is one that would make an excellent last-minute costume idea: McDonald’s hilarious Gaijin mascot, Mr. James. I’m Lovin’ It!


19 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2009 5:18 am

    re: New York Times Spotlights Racism in South Korea

    It seems that you’re caricaturing me into the script that you’ve written for people that disagree with you, as an “Amelikan.” I am an active member of the Asian American and Taiwanese American community. Nowhere in my comment did I claim a “post-racial” America or a multicultural utopia, but I do believe that America has been able to arrive at an understanding of pluralism that still cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

    Your script is a self-serving interpretation of society where only marginal gains are to be had.

  2. November 6, 2009 10:16 am

    Caricaturing you? I doubt it. You don’t have to be White to adopt the dominant American worldview. There are many “people of color” in America–including Taiwanese Americans–who buy into the laughable nonsense that the USA is a pluralist democracy.

    It’s only from a certain class or political myopia that you can believe this. For middle class American elites of ALL COLORS, they believe in the unreality that the USA is tolerant and diverse. Their class status insulates themselves from the truth, however.

    I gave you that link from Amnesty International that documents the fact that over 30 million Americans report to being racially profiled by the Land of the Free. This is equivalent to the population of Canada!

    Click to access rp_report.pdf

    How do you square this with your assertion that the USA has a pluralism unique in the world?

    Here are more links about American “pluralism” and it’s brutal treatment of immigrants.

  3. November 10, 2009 2:56 am

    “For middle class American elites of ALL COLORS, they believe in the unreality that the USA is tolerant and diverse.”

    Don Quixote, I think you confuse my view that America possesses pluralism that is unique in the world with the belief that our “pluralist democracy” is absolute and that racism is absent. I think it’s silly that you think *any* Asian American of “class status” can live a life of any period without having experienced firsthand racism, as you must think I have enjoyed in order to hold the views that I do. I also find it amusing that while you detest racism here in the United States you savor the taste White’s getting a taste of their own medicine with Mr. James.

    I adhere to my view that the United States has been the primary mover for cross-cultural awareness, however imperfect. I still adhere to my view that the response to the NY Times article was reactionary, not proactive. You misinterpret me if you think that America has reached cultural enlightenment.

  4. November 10, 2009 4:19 am

    I haven’t confused anything about you or your arguments.

    You still cannot address the links I provided that document America’s racist values that bely your claim that it is “a primary mover for cross-cultural awareness.”

    Like most apologists for White America, you attempt to minimize these issues with weasel words about “imperfection” or implicitly play the reverse racism card (Mr. James).

    As such, you are not much different from the New York Times.

    And here’s another example of America’s “cross-cultural awareness” in action. The title says it all: “CLOSE TO SLAVERY: Guestworker Programs in the United States.”

    Click to access SPLCguestworker.pdf

    This is a reality that model minority Taiwanese Americans sadly would rather deny.

  5. November 11, 2009 12:56 am

    How many other nations can host an organization such as the Southern Poverty Law Center? The sources you use undermine your own position – are these organizations not American? Isn’t this evidence that America has reached some level of pluralism? You’re the mirror image of a antebellum racist reflected across the Mason-Dixon line. The only thing I deny is your absolutist and polarizing views, not the reports you cite, not the problems you identify. You just can’t tolerate the fact that I don’t possess the same vehemence you do. I mean come, the fuck, on. You compare the NY Times lecturing South Korea to “Nazi Germany lecturing the world about anti-semitism.”

    Really? NAZI GERMANY?!

    That’s why I don’t take you seriously. If you weren’t so hyperbolic I’d probably agree with all of your views.

  6. November 12, 2009 8:39 pm

    You still trying to pimp for White America? The best you got is to focus on tangential issues and avoid the actual reality of White racism and supremacy in the Beacon of Pluralism that is America.

    The proverbial house negro once defended the institution of White supremacy just as desperately as his master.

    So too, apparently does the Taiwanese Model Minority today.

    How do you square the reality that 30 million Americans report to being racially profiled and that the USA’s treatment of migrants and immigrants is ruthlessly brutal with your assertion that the USA is some sort of model for “pluralism” to the world?

    And organizations like the SPLC criticize the USA for reformist political reasons. They advocate for limited reforms that meliorate existing problems … so that these problems do not develop and ultimately jeopardize the American system itself. This is the politics of most reformist organizations.

    And yes, comparing they hypocrisy of America talking about racism to the hypothetical hypocrisy of Nazi Germany talking about anti-Semitism is accurate.

    After all, America is a nation based on some of the greatest racist crimes in history: Chattel Slavery and Native Indian genocide.

    No slavery. No America.

    No Indian genocide. No America.

    The USA has no moral legitimacy to open its mouth about racism–except to admit its own.

    As Malcolm X once said, as long as you are south of the Canadian border, you are living “down South.”

  7. Ryan permalink
    October 23, 2010 5:08 pm

    I have to say, the assertion that anyone wearing one of these costumes would be welcomed at a “mainstream” American Halloween party is absolutely absurd. They certainly are sold to the more blatantly racist and bigoted among us, but “mainstream”? I guess that depends on your definition of mainstream and where you live.

    You have a Grand Canyon sized chip on your shoulder, and to the extent that any single white American can be responsible for that, I apologize. I completely agree with a lot of what you seem to think about racism in this country, but I’m also offended by the almost unbelievably large brush with which you paint white America. The ease with which you group people together based on the color of their skin and nationality while criticizing this imaginarily homogeneous group for embracing the stereotyping of a group of people based on the color of their skin and nationality is AMAZING! Cognitive dissonance at its very best.

    While your perspective is undoubtedly closer to the truth than racist whites, you’re still miles away from enlightenment.

  8. October 23, 2010 11:56 pm

    @ Ryan.

    Those types of costumes are sold by major US corporate chain stores like Target, Amazon, etc. Somebody is buying that crap in significant numbers, or those stores wouldn’t be carrying those costumes in the first place. They are as mainstream as apple pie.

    And those racist caricatures above are not just about individual stereotypes. They’re the continuation of a time-honored tradition called Minstrelsy which has been a powerful, if not defining, feature of American culture for nearly a century.

    Minstrelsy was targetted towards and enjoyed by White audiences in the tens of millions. It’s legacy and influence pervade popular culture to this day, unquestioned and normalized–in the mainstream media or even in mundane costumes. How’s that unfairly painting White America with a broad brush?

    BTW, you’re coming on my blog complaining all in huff with the standard White-America-as-Victim whine? You might want to check yourself about chips on shoulders.

  9. Adam T permalink
    October 28, 2010 1:44 pm

    What’s wrong with the “tighty whitey” costume? Unless I’m missing something, the name of it has nothing to do with race, just the nickname “tightie-whities” that people use for BVDs (aka briefs).

    It involves baggy pants, sure, but why would that be racist? If they called the costume “The Wigger” or something like that, then I’d see the offensiveness. But since they don’t, that costume has no business being on the same list as the horrendous “Fee Ling” mask.

  10. Dan permalink
    October 28, 2010 2:09 pm

    Ironically (or not) those costumes are made in China. Who’s laughing now?

  11. Dazillion permalink
    October 28, 2010 4:00 pm

    Umm, I’m not a White American but if you really believe that the problems within the United States when it comes to integration of immigrant minorities is worse the the innate racism of most other countries on this planet you are trying to sell something.

    Asia is by far the most racist continent on Earth. Racism is just part of life; accepted and never challenged.

    The difference in Western enlightenment societies is that we identify racism as a problem, not a permanent and unalterable feature of society, and try to combat it.

    Perhaps the US isn’t very succesful as you (and these costumes) seem to suggest. At least they are having the discussion.

  12. October 28, 2010 9:25 pm

    God, these are unbearable.

  13. Effram permalink
    October 28, 2010 9:43 pm

    America is the most tolerant and open-minded country when it comes to race. It’s not perfect but we frequently elect minority members to positions of power. What other country can make that claim?

    From purely anecdotal evidence, having lived in four countries, Asians are by far the most bigoted, followed by Europeans and somewhere, off in the distance is America, where one can generally walk down the street of any major city with a member of the opposite sex of a different race and not be bothered by anyone.

    I’m not one to use the tired old argument that if you don’t like it you should leave, but if you don’t like it you should go elsewhere and see what real racism and bigotry is(like not being served at a restaurant, or people assuming that you are the maid when you answer the door in your own home).

  14. November 2, 2010 2:56 pm

    Wonder where most of those costumes were made. I’d bet China. Crap Central for as long as I can remember.

  15. Alexander permalink
    November 2, 2010 3:23 pm

    Odd, I saw NO white people wearing any of these outfits/masks. Makes me wonder what is your set of data points on which you make you observation/charge?

  16. November 24, 2010 7:45 am

    @ Effram

    You are living in some Orwellian American reality–either that or watching too much Fox News/CNN.

    America imprisons more people than other country in the world–a disproportionate number of whom are racial minorities.

    That’s why some people call the American gulag the New Jim Crow:

    American Prisons Keep Jim Crow Racism Alive

    Michelle Alexander on “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”

    That’s your glorious American land of tolerance and open-mindedness for you. Appointing White stooges like Barack Obama to power doesn’t change this ugly reality one whit.

    And if you want to see some “real racism,” go to a US prison, jail, or police station and see what you get.

    @ Dazillion

    You must be smoking the same crack that Effram is smoking. As evidenced by things like Arizona’s SB 1070, American racist xenophobia is increasing by leaps and bounds. You can spout all the self-congratulatory rhetoric about the Western “Enlightenment” you want, but the facts on the ground tell a different story.

    Here’s an example of how America, the self-proclaimed Land of the Free, treats its immigrants:

    Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States

    And you ever hear of a thing called police racist profiling?

    Secret NYPD Tapes Document Routine, Massive Police Racism

    The only difference between American White supremacy and racism of the past and present is that today, the USA *hides* it racism better with a lot of empty rhetoric about reforming or changing it.

    But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Racism is not only as American apple pie; it’s more American than apple pie.

    @ Dan, Quonest

    LoL. If those costumes were made in China, dollars to donuts they were made by and for American corporations that reap the profits of their labor.

    It’s called American corporate outsourcing. America exploits workers in the Developing World all in order to satisfy greedy American corporations and consumers alike.

    @ Alexander

    What the hell is your “data point”? How do you explain why major American chain stores would be peddling this shit in the first place? Somebody is buying it up. You do the math.

  17. Thanks permalink
    November 3, 2011 10:33 pm

    I will not even pretend to understand the racial discrimination that happens all over the US. I’ve witnessed it, heard it, confronted it over and over again for most of my life. I grew up in one of the most racially segregated and tense areas of the US.

    What you say is right. You are right to fight for the civil liberties of all races. I don’t enjoy being painted with the brush “White America”, but I cannot deny it. Having grown up desperately poor in a racially mixed neighborhood, it was obvious to me that I was treated better by the local shopkeepers and government workers than my non-white peers. As I have gotten older, I still see it. Although the discrimination isn’t blatant in the way is once was, pay attention and you will see it is endemic in this culture and your experience of it will vary widely depending on where you live in this very large nation.

    I was raised to be intolerant of the intolerant. Discrimination of any kind is abhorrent to me and I fight it within myself and when faced with it in any situation. Keep up the good work, keep telling the truth, we all need to hear it.

  18. January 5, 2012 7:28 am

    I’ve said that least 382025 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

  19. suriwat diemer permalink
    October 30, 2013 6:12 am

    @asianamericanmovent have you lived in any Asian country?. If so where? I have lived in SE Asia for 12 years and done work in almost every country in Asia and I can tell you America is not even in the top 50 countries as far as racism goes. Also, please explain to me who fits into white America? If my father is European and my mother is Japanese am I white or Asian? Or does it depend completely on my features. I agree that America has race issues but you are saying its Whites against the rest of us. What about black against white, Hispanic against black, Asian against white, Asian against black, Asian against Indian, Indian against Asian and the list goes on. You have a very myopic view of racism. If you were from many SE Asian countries, walk down the streets holding the hand of your black or for that matter white boyfriend then see what kind of reception you get from your fellow countrymen. I do agree that an inordinate amount of mostly black Americans are incarcerated. This has to do with poor drug laws and unfortunately poverty among black Americans. I suppose you have the power to look at someone and tell if they are Caucasian? I understand your anger at these costumes, but you assume only stupid white people would wear them. Your comments seem to be more divisive than helpful. In the Asian country I live in, they group all white foreigners , no matter what country they are from as being the same. They also believe that if you are Asian you can’t be American or English. It seems by your postings they are correct.

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