It’s Halloween. Perhaps you fondly remember it from childhood or from your own children as a time of joy, imagination, costumes and way too many sweets.
My son is now too old to dress up for the annual event, but over the years he has been decked out as any number of superheroes including Batman’s sidekick Robin as a two-year-old and Spiderman as a seven-year-old. It’s probably a good thing that he has outgrown the dress-up part of Halloween however because the Anti Defamation League (ADL) has declared superhero costumes off-limits in our woke world.
Protesting the fun of Halloween is nothing new of course. The religious right argued for years that celebrating with witches and ghosts and goblins was akin to worshipping Satan and should be banned from schools. I can only imagine what they would have thought of the intricate devil costume my mother sewed for me when I was seven. In 2021 however, the ADL has taken the attack on Halloween fun to a whole new level.
The ADL sent out a tweet this past weekend aimed at parents that said in part, “Check out our resource for reminders about how and why to avoid cultural appropriation, cultural stereotypes, and costumes that perpetuate gender norms.”
Allow me to interrupt my own column right there. In the last part of their tweet, the phrase that parents might perpetuate “gender norms.” Norms is the root word of normal. Heaven forbid any parent would encourage their child to be normal when it comes to gender issues. Okay, back to the column.
The ADL encourages parents to be proactive in squashing any imaginative ideas their child may have for a costume. If your kid is interested in Native Americans for example and wants to dress up in traditional Indian attire, you should snuff out that initiative immediately. To do so would be cultural appropriation, we’re told. It would be stealing the Native American identity. The ADL says Halloween costumes are only fun when they don’t make fun of other people. They fail to explain how a child’s interest in Native American history is mocking in any way, shape or manner. Likewise, the ADL says if you wear a sombrero, you are being disrespectful to Mexicans.
The ADL even goes so far as to say dressing as a hobo is offensive to people of a lower economic status. Call me crazy but if a person finds themself homeless, living on the street, trying to stay warm and wondering where their next meal is coming from, I suspect the costume choice of a six-year-old is way, way down on their list of concerns.
It gets even crazier, however. It is now offensive for a child to be normal. We are told that many Halloween costumes perpetuate gender stereotypes and exclude those who don’t conform to traditional gender norms. If your little girl is fascinated by and wants to dress up as a Princess, somehow that is offensive. If your little boy is particularly interested in action heroes you must surgically remove that shadow of early masculinity. Instead, the ADL recommends parents, “Engage in conversations with young people about gender stereotypes and discuss messages that companies send through marketing and advertising.”
Girls can no longer be girls, boys can no longer be boys and parents must make sure their children don’t embrace being normal. Dressing up as anything influenced one scintilla by any cultural or ethnic group will be interpreted (usually by white, upper middle-class elites) as offensive to said group because you have stolen and disrespected someone’s history.
The nation’s most prominent Irish Catholic university, Notre Dame, has a nickname called the Fighting Irish and a mascot/logo that is a drunken leprechaun, fists raised, eyes wild, ready to throw down with anyone. As an American of Irish heritage, I’m not easily offended. Thus I take no offense whatsoever to the cartoon image. In fact, the Irish embrace it. We don’t believe it belittles us. We aren’t convinced that the world will believe all Irish are tiny, drunk and seeking hand-to-hand combat. We see it for what it is. A fun, creative character.
So it is with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. All are fun, creative characters. When your child wants to dress up as one of them, preferably boys as Batman and Superman and girls as Wonder Woman, encourage it. Allow your little one to have fun, to exercise his or her imagination and to embrace playing a make-believe role. Don’t crush their imaginative spirit with some PC nonsense spouted off by the ADL.
Let’s take it a step further. Using yet another example from the Irish, we should encourage and embrace the celebration of all cultures, histories and traditions. On St. Patrick’s Day each year, the Irish don’t complain that their culture is being appropriated by the rest of the world. Instead, they welcome everyone, both with real history and with cartoonish cultural foolishness. “Everyone is Irish today!” Is the rallying cry in Boston, New York, Chicago, Savannah and countless other cities across the nation. No one is offended if the Italian, the Indonesian or the Ghanaian wears green and yells out “Erin go bragh!”
So it should be for the Native Americans. Let children (and adults too for that matter) celebrate American Indian heritage without complaining that it is somehow offensive. Take a page from the Irish playbook and welcome everyone. It doesn’t demean culture or history in any way to be inclusive and welcoming, even if the six-year-old’s costume doesn’t quite get it right.
The same goes for Mexican culture, Polish culture, Russian culture, Chinese culture and any other. History isn’t some privately owned item restricted for the use and enjoyment of pureblood descendants. Particularly in the melting pot that is the United States, history is best when it is enjoyed, shared and celebrated, even if it takes on a cartoonish flavor at times.
The list of Halloween costumes and themes the ADL has deemed offensive or inappropriate is so extensive that perhaps the best thing the ADL itself could do this year is dress up as the only thing left, the Invisible Man.
• Tim Constantine is a columnist for The Washington Times and hosts “The Capitol Hill Show” podcast every week from Washington, D.C.