Hey Assholes, ‘Arab’ Is Not a Halloween Costume
I was doing some online shopping this week, and it got me thinking about the fine line between tastefully incorporating the aesthetics of another culture and being a straight up ignorant asshole—and I am not sure anyone can clearly identify where that line is drawn.
As I was gathering ideas for a last-minute Halloween costume and frantically searching through random noun-turned-slut assortments, I came across the “Dreamgirl Sexy Middle Eastern Arab Girl Burka Halloween Costume,” previously sold by Sears. This piece of tasteless appropriation doesn’t teeter between cultural borrowing and plain ignorance. Besides obviously disrespecting a culture, there are a couple blatant reasons this costume is politically incorrect. Let’s start with the name: It’s not a “burqa,” it’sniqab. And, why are belly-dancing coins dangling from it? Did someone just brainstorm the first three words that came to mind after “Middle Eastern” and threw them on fabric? Veils! Belly Dancing! Bedouins! And, whore it up, boys!
In Western society, Middle Eastern women often get the reputation of being sacred, good-girl virgins, oppressed by their clothing and locked in the basement by the man of the house—only to be let out if food or cleaning is involved. So will Middle Eastern culture only be accepted and incorporated into Western culture if it’s exotic and sensual but not assertive or political? Are Middle Eastern and Islamic clothes looked down on unless they are used as exotic, sexy costumes, ironically playing with the “good-girl virgin” stereotype?
But this ridiculous standard isn’t limited to Halloween costumes; celebrities think Middle Eastern clothes are costumes too. M.I.A walked the red carpet to an award ceremony in a niqab back in 2010. Then Lady GaGa played dress up with one just last month. Lady GaGa is provocateur. She collects style points from shocking and controversial headlines. I highly doubt Lady GaGa actually values a niqab’s religious or cultural attributes. But at this point, is it really even shocking anymore? Aren’t there more important things going on in the world to shock us? It’s trite; it’s tired; it’s stale.