‘Race is not a costume’: Halloween retailer branded ‘racist’ for stocking blackface makeup
Two days before the spooky holiday weekend, controversy erupted on social media after an image of a “racist” blackface costume being sold in Halloween HQ’s Northern Ireland branch went viral.
The retailer, which calls itself Europe’s leading Halloween store for “all things scary,” has been criticized by anti-racism campaigners.
When human rights activist Megan Fearon was shopping for costumes on Wednesday she was “disappointed” to discover a black face costume among a rack of Halloween accessories.
Fearon immediately shared her anger on social media, where she tweeted: “Halloween is no excuse for ignorance or racism.”
The social justice campaigner also said she was “disappointed” to see this product in the Newry shopping center. “Culture and race is not a costume,” she added.
Commenting on the controversy, the Race Equality Foundation said it is “really unacceptable” for Halloween HQ to sell such a product.
“While we should not lose our sense of fun, this really is unacceptable,” the charity’s deputy chief executive officer Jabeer Butt told RT.
“Beyond the racial stereotyping, it also further feeds the idea of black and minority ethnic people being mad or bad or dangerous. I do hope the shop withdraws it from sale,” he added.
‘We did not set out to be racist’
When approached by RT, Halloween HQ said it has removed the product from its shelves as it had not intended to be racist.
“The product was removed from sale as soon as we became aware of the packaging. As you can appreciate we sell thousands of lines of products each Halloween season,” a spokesperson for the shop said.
“This product was bought from an Italian supplier of Halloween accessories. It was bought along with other colors in the range “Eg Blue Face,” “Red Face” etc. It was bought without being aware of the packaging which apparently depicts a Caucasian male with Black face paint on.
“As I said, as soon as we became aware we withdrew the product from sale.
“Without getting drawn into a discussion on the background of the blackface, let it be placed on record that we did not set out to offend in this way. We are also and always have been an equal opportunities employer.”
History behind blackface
Blackface originated in the 1820s during minstrel shows where white men would pretend to be plantation slaves and free blacks.
These caricatures were used to make a mockery of black people. The minstrel shows continued to take place widely until the 1890s. During this period, they were among the most popular form of entertainment in America.
To this day, however, shops have continued to stock the controversial makeup and associated costumes for fancy dress.
Anti-racism campaigners have branded such costumes “degrading and offensive.” People who wear them are often accused of promoting racism.
On Tuesday, secondary school teacher Heath Morrow from Alabama, US, apologized for wearing blackface to mimic black hip hop rapper Kanye West at an early Halloween party.
“I would like to first apologize for my error in judgement, but my intentions were not malicious or directed toward any certain group of people,” he said in a statement.
“I would also like to say that everyone who knows my character and knows my heart, knows that I have never seen color in my life.”