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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Debate erupts over Halloween costumes crossing racial lines

NBC talk show host Megyn Kelly's comments about blackface on Halloween have reinvigorated a debate over costumes that cross racial lines and what's appropriate

Chadwick Boseman in a scene from 'Black Panther.' Marvel Studios / Disney via AP
Chadwick Boseman in a scene from 'Black Panther.' Marvel Studios / Disney via AP

When Colorado lawyer Jeff Schwartz asked his 7-year-old son what he wanted to dress as this Halloween, the answer was clear: his favourite movie superhero, Black Panther.

Schwartz said his white son's choice of a black character didn't give him pause.

"I didn't give it a second thought," said Schwartz. "I think that if my son wants to idolise a character — be it a black character or a white character — race doesn't need to come into it at all."

NBC talk show host Megyn Kelly's comments about blackface on Halloween have reinvigorated a debate over costumes that cross racial lines and what's appropriate at a time when diverse movie and TV characters like Black Panther have become hugely popular.

The issue has reverberated across social media, from magazine articles about white children wearing Black Panther costumes to protests against costumes that perpetuate Native American stereotypes. Social media debates have focused on whether political correctness is spoiling the spirit of the holiday.

The fallout was swift for Kelly, who wondered on her show why dressing up in blackface for Halloween is racist: NBC said Friday it was cancelling Megyn Kelly Today. She found little support from her NBC colleagues, including Al Roker who called on her to apologise to people o fcolour nationwide. He later was asked on Twitter if a woman's white son was OK to dress as Black Panther.

"Sure he can. Just don't try to wear dark makeup on," Roker wrote.

Others chimed in on the thread, including Schwartz, whose son only wants to don the Marvel character's vibranium suit.

"We should encourage our kids to have black heroes whether they're white or black kids. That's healthy," Schwartz said.

Some articles warn white parents away from such a choice, arguing that while Black Panther's fabled homeland "Wakanda" isn't a real place, the character's race is essential to his identity.

Elise Barrow, a black mother of three in New York City, said she and her husband tried to persuade their 5-year-old son to be Black Panther, but he opted to be a dinosaur instead. Barrow said she was torn by the debate.

"Kids want to be what they want to be. I'm not going to prevent them," Barrow said. "If my son wants to be Captain America, I'm not going to say no."

A similar issue cropped up in recent years with the animated features Moana, set in ancient Polynesia, and Pixar's Coco, which centers on a Mexican boy named Miguel and his family. A few months before Moana's November 2016 release, Disney pulled a costume based on the character of Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson. The ensemble included a brown bodysuit with Polynesian tattoos and a faux-grass skirt. Some argued that it was off-putting to have a child wear the skin of another race.

Jim Quirk, a white father of three in St. Paul, Minnesota, said adults should stop projecting concerns about race and gender onto what is essentially "a kids' holiday."

"They want to be princesses, doctors, Black Panther or whatever," Quirk said. "They do it because they want to be like them. It's adults who put meaning onto these things."

But he acknowledges there are some things that are over the line, such as blackface.

"You shouldn't be disrespectful," Quirk said.

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Read more:

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