This is America: I’m a Black person who loves Halloween. Please stop ruining it for me

N'dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY
·7 min read

Hello! Welcome to the "This is America" newsletter centered on race, identity and how they shape our lives. I’m N’dea Yancey-Bragg, a trending news reporter who focuses on (you guessed it) race and identity.

I love Halloween. I love eating ridiculous amounts of fun-size candy. I love coming up with "punny" costumes and trying to persuade my cat to wear them. I think "Monster Mash" slaps.

As much as I love this holiday, the racist undercurrents in the way some people celebrate it make my skin crawl for all the wrong reasons.

It feels like a silly thing to complain about given the very pressing threats people of color disproportionately face, including police violence, a global pandemic and voter suppression. But it's just another item in a long list of exhausting reminders that racism creeps into every part of your life.

USA TODAY's N'dea Yancey-Bragg can no longer fit into this Barney costume, but still very much loves dinosaurs.
USA TODAY's N'dea Yancey-Bragg can no longer fit into this Barney costume, but still very much loves dinosaurs.

But first: Race and justice news we're watching

Important stories of the past week, from USA TODAY and other news sources.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but could everyone stop doing racist costumes?

Not long after I graduated college and moved to Virginia, politicians in my new home state made headlines for wearing blackface when they were in school. One might have thought, as they joked on Saturday Night Live that week, that it was the '80s! They didn’t know it was wrong then, and things surely must be different now! You’d be wrong!

Although a slight majority of Americans (53%) think it is generally unacceptable for a white person to use makeup to darken their skin to appear to be a different race as part of a Halloween costume, about one-in-three said this is always or sometimes acceptable, according to a Pew Research Center survey from 2019.

Blackface in Virginia: This and other incidents show how deeply rooted anti-Black racism is in America

That same survey found that nearly 60% of Americans believed it is always or sometimes acceptable for someone to wear traditional dress from a country or culture other than their own as part of a Halloween costume.

That is called cultural appropriation and it perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

'We are better than this': Idaho teachers get paid leave after dressing as border wall, Latinos for Halloween

The idea that blackface and other racially insensitive costumes are wrong is still relatively new, according to “Susan Scafidi, author of "Who Owns Culture: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law."

Scafidi said the conversation became mainstream five years ago when Yale University found itself embroiled in controversy for asking its students not to wear racially insensitive costumes.

Dressing up as someone of another race or ethnicity reduces an entire culture to a certain set of stereotypes, Scafidi explained. "It diminishes the culture from which the caricature is drawn," Scafidi said. "There’s economic harm and there is psychological or emotional harm."

Features that a white person might exaggerate as part of a costume are the same very permanent physical attributes that can put a person of color in physical jeopardy on a daily basis.

More: Comedian's 'racist' Kim Jong Un costume sparks outrage

It’s frustrating for people of color still have to explain that their culture is not costume, but Scafidi said she believes the younger generation is less accepting of these kinds of costumes. Let's hope so.

Lynchings are a terrifying part of Black history, not Halloween decoration inspiration

In the fall of 2018, after I started working at USA TODAY full-time, I was assigned to write a story on how police in Illinois removed a Halloween decoration that looked a lot like a lynched Black man. I remember an editor telling me that unfortunately this kind of story pops up every year.

Although they removed the decoration, the Illinois police said there was "no malicious intent" behind the display.

"Those kind of images can't help but bring up the image of actual Black people hanging in this country," Koritha Mitchell, the author of "Living with Lynching: African-American Lynching Plays, Performance, and Citizenship, 1890-1930," told me. "That's disingenuous pretending that 'oh, it's just scary in general' in a country that has a very specific history of terrorizing very specific people with that kind of violence."

Documenting the brutal mob violence: America's lynching history is now online

More than 4,300 people were lynched in 20 states, according to a groundbreaking study published by the Equal Justice Initiative in 2017. Mitchell explained that lynching was a tactic used to terrorize Black people – particularly those who were successful, outspoken or exercised their right to vote – as "a reminder that you have to be worried about staying your proper place."

She pointed out that even if the people displaying nooses aren't consciously aware of America's history with lynching, they can still cause harm.

There are many possibilities for Halloween decorations like this $300 12-foot skeleton from Home Depot or this lawn sign that literally just says 2020. Can we all just agree to stick with decorations that don't bring up centuries of racial trauma?

The Black horror renaissance is here to save Halloween 2020

As you might've guessed, horror is my favorite movie genre. Don't get me wrong, I'm always here for more wholesome fare like "Halloweentown" or "Hocus Pocus," but what's Halloween without a good scare?

But it’s hard not to notice that scary movies films rarely if ever do right by their character(s) of color — if they exist at all.

"Black people have always loved horror but horror didn’t always love us," Tananarive Due, the executive producer of the documentary "Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror" said.

The horrors of 'Get Out' are real: Jordan Peele's deconstruction of racism is even scarier now

"Black characters were disregarded or very, very thin characters, very trope-y, based on stereotypes," said Due, who also teaches a class on Black horror at University of California, Los Angeles. "Like the sassy friend over and over again, who’s going to die early."

I was surprised to learn the trope that Black characters die first might not be all that common: A 2013 analysis of 50 popular horror films from Complex found that while one or all of the Black characters die at some point in 70% of the films, they only die first in .1% of the films. So that’s nice I guess.

Study: Two in three Black Americans don't see themselves represented in movies and TV

Something I found encouraging that Due and my colleague Rasha Ali pointed out is that we are slowly but surely seeing more Black stories come to the forefront especially in the horror genre. It felt like a personal gift to me when Jordan Peele made “Get Out,” which he quickly followed with “Us,” and a “Twilight Zone” reboot.

Due said that stories like "Get Out" and "Lovecraft Country," which features racism as the monster, work so well because Black people have long been prevented from sharing the trauma that marks our history.

In a year that has felt more challenging than most, Due said horror can offer powerful survival lessons. Horror isn't always about guts and gore, it can be about finding the courage to face the worst trial of your life and sometimes you even get to beat the monster.

I'm not usually an optimist, but I hope that someday all the Black girls who love spooky movies won't think it's unusual to see themselves actually survive one.

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Next week: Mabinty Quarshie and Fatima Farha talk about the 2020 election.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Halloween 2020: I’m a Black person who loves Halloween. Please stop ruining it for me