A Message to Little Black Girls in White Spaces This Halloween

Alexis Jones

Being a little Black girl on Halloween was never as fun as I hoped it would be. Parading through the streets dressed up as society’s favorite fictional characters or celebrities felt confining. It usually involved putting on a costume that didn’t quite fit – and I don’t mean for size. I always kind of felt like I was putting on another skin, one much lighter than mine.

While I know the point of Halloween is to dress up like someone you’re not – and instead pick a celebrity you look up to or a recognizable fictional character – it was extremely unfortunate that Halloween stores in the 1990s and 2000s were lacking melanated icons.

I remember thinking my options were pretty much Dorothy or a devil. And being raised in a Christian household, I certainly wasn’t getting away with the devil costume.

When I was 7 years old, I wanted to be Marian Anderson, the first Black person to perform on the main stage at the Metropolitan Opera. I know, it’s a niche costume for a child to pick, but I was obsessed. I’d done my book report on her and made a bottle-person version of her for display. But I knew better than to look in the aisles of Spirit Halloween for that one, and my mom wasn’t super crafty, so Marian simply wasn’t an option for me.

Instead, I told my mom that I wanted to be Kelly Rowland, from Destiny’s Child, thinking it would be a lower-lift costume. I was sure that the stores would have that one. But I was wrong. The closest thing I could find was a red wig, and my mom managed to use one of my old dance costumes as the main outfit. She bought me a headset, and I was performance ready. I went to school that day feeling confident, certain that my classmates would get it. But all day, I had to explain myself – who I was and why I’d picked her. I tried the Kelly costume another year, that time aiming for “Dilemma” Kelly Rowland – and I still got the same confused looks. The costume was a bust.

It seemed like my white peers never knew enough Black celebs or characters to recognize who I was, and they couldn’t quite reconcile my Black skin dressed as a white celebrity either.

The following year, I decided to give them something easier, someone white: Avril Lavigne. But even with the T-shirt, tie around my neck, cargo pants, and guitar, my classmates couldn’t transpose my Black body with Avril Lavigne’s. They dubbed me “guitar girl,” while Emily, the blond-haired Britney Spears of the class, was instantly recognized.

For a long time, it felt like I was doomed no matter what costume I chose. It seemed like my white peers never knew enough Black celebs or characters to recognize who I was, and they couldn’t quite reconcile my Black skin dressed as a white celebrity either.

The only times they ever “understood” my costume was if I was a white fictional character, like Dorothy or Bubbles from “The Powerpuff Girls,” which I recall my mom strongly objecting to given the blond wig and potential identity crisis that she feared the costume would give me. There were no Black Disney princesses at the time, and I’d still have to explain that I was the Brandy version of Cinderella.

Today, things are a little different. Fortunately, little Black girls have Princess Tiana, Doc McStuffins, Shuri from “Black Panther,” Michelle Obama – all undeniable icons who would likely be recognized in both Black and white spaces.

But if there is a piece of advice I could give the little Black girls before Halloween, especially those celebrating the holiday in predominantly white spaces, it would be to have fun and to hold your head up high, especially in those moments where people don’t “get” your costume. Don’t get discouraged when you walk into the classroom and you’re the only Serena Williams or Keke Palmer. Know that you made the right decision and that your costume is unique, original, and 100 percent perfect for Halloween. You get to be who you want to be on Halloween and every other day, and that’s all that matters.

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