With Halloween and her son’s birthday approaching, Jamie Becker-Finn was in the market for Batman-themed stuff two weeks ago. But before finding any Dark Knight gear, another display at the Roseville Party City caught the Ojibwe woman’s eye.
Before her towered a wall festooned with headdresses, beadwork, dreamcatchers, and whatever else one might need to dress up as a stereotypical Native American for Halloween. That didn’t sit well.
“Those are all sacred objects to us,” Becker-Finn says. “To have these bastardized versions made of plastic that are made to wear for fun” is hurtful.
She raised her concerns with the store manager, who wasn’t malicious but took a “not my problem” approach, she claims. Then Becker-Finn dialed up Party City corporate and got no response. Facebook, the disenchanted consumer’s best friend, was her next avenue.
“Hey Party City, this is not okay!” she posted on the company's page with a pic of the display. “Educate yourselves and get this offensive stuff out of your stores!”
Hey Party City, this is not okay! Educate yourselves and get this offensive stuff out of your stores!
The comments trickled in, some supportive and others crying “Easy, Pocohantas [sic] — it’s just a costume,” or telling her to get over it.
“Well, no,” Becker-Finn says. “These costumes present a false, stereotyped idea of native people. We’re not mythical beings who only exist in the past. And it perpetuates that idea that we aren’t real and if we’re not real, you don’t need to respect us.”
The store manager declined to comment, referring us to Party City’s PR handlers, who did not immediately respond. But they did post a corporate speak-y apology on Facebook, saying they weren’t trying to offend anyone, but that “there is demand for a wide variety of Halloween costumes.”
“Obviously there’s demand for all kinds of illegal and distasteful things, but that doesn’t mean that they’re obligated to profit from it,” Becker-Finn says. “They don’t sell Nazi costumes. They don’t sell things that promote using blackface or anything that the wider population now accepts is disrespectful and racist. But I think native people make up a relatively small percentage of the population. … It isn’t like we have the numbers for a corporation to really care on our own.”
Days later, the Roseville mom resumed her Halloween shopping quest at Spirit Halloween in Rosedale Mall. There was another stable of Native ensembles. But the “sexy Indian” costume with the bosomy non-Native model on the bag was particularly bothersome. She again went to the manager.
“We don’t condone racism,” store manager Jesse Godina says, noting that every year someone finds something they carry offensive. “We don’t do none of that here. Halloween is supposed to be for fun, good times. One day out of the year you can dress up and not have anybody say anything, but yet there’s always one person.”
Becker-Finn says her complaint was initially met with hostility and that she was told to leave the store. However, she eventually connected with the store’s co-owner and after a “pretty productive conversation,” Spirit agreed to pull the sexualized costume, though she had hoped the entire Native American fleet would be removed.
“I wanted to bring up the issue and have people think a little bit harder on it,” she says, tying the costumes to the Washington Redskins and University of North Dakota nickname debates. “These things are not new issues for our community. The costumes have always bothered me my entire life. But now that I’m a parent I’m sick of it.”
- Halloween Freeloader Friday: 27 free things to do this weekend
- Trendy Halloween costumes to avoid this year (and what to go as instead)
- LeBron James rocks epic Prince costume, sings “Purple Rain” [video]
- University of Wisconsin-Stout's blackface costume controversy
- Battle rages over racist paintings in the Minnesota State Capitol