Folklorists have long been interested in the study of Halloween festivities as an example of a communal ritual event steeped in symbolism. Like carnival, rites of passages, or national holidays, Halloween represents a temporary disruption of life as we know it and provides an opportunity for the “reversal of roles” from our structured life.
Most sociologists agree that these types of large-scale celebrations fulfill a necessary tension-release function at the individual, group and societal level. These types of alterations in the social order, however, can also present unique challenges and even turn into dangerous moments of social conflict.
Recently, a greater awareness about the uses of offensive racialized and gendered costuming during Halloween has emerged. The widely reported cased of college parties involving tasteless and reproachable racial images, under the guise of “humor,” has called into question the implications of cross-cultural dressing altogether.
Below, Borderlore’s editor Dr. Maribel Alvarez, who has studied stereotypes in her work as an anthropologist, discusses the nuances of these controversial practices and why social justice-minded cultural practitioners are paying increasing attention to the ghoulish holiday in October.