In the next few days, your news feeds and social media timelines will be peppered with reports of white people reveling at Halloween parties posing for pictures in blackface, Ku Klux Klan costumes and Nazi uniforms.
This prediction is not based on inside information or anonymous tips. We know this will happen because it always happens. Every year, people of no color have to issue sad-faced mea culpas after someone points out a Facebook post or Instagram selfie where they are caught holding a Pabst Blue Ribbon, doing the “Heil, Hitler” salute and wearing something really offensive. The collective hubris of white America will ultimately be their own undoing.
But why is this phenomenon so race-specific? Why don’t black people ever get caught up in the shenanigans surrounding All Hallows Eve? Have you ever read about a black person having to apologize for going a little bit too far at a costume party? Do you remember that one time the black dude got caught handing out poison candy and slipping razor blades into apples? Of course you don’t, because it never happened.
First of all, if you gave a black kid a piece of fruit instead of a fun-sized Milky Way, you’d probably get the Miss Celie two-finger curse put on you: “Until you do right by me, every piece of candy you think about … ” Secondly, you don’t wanna mess with black people’s kids. Trust me, that might be the scariest thing you can do. It’s because Halloween is a white people holiday.
Yes, Halloween is for white people.
Oh, you didn’t know holidays had colors? Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Labor Day and Fourth of July, for instance, are black holidays. We celebrate them with church events, family gatherings and cookouts. Columbus Day, Presidents Day and Halloween, however, are holidays for the “overprivileged.” It doesn’t mean black people won’t or can’t celebrate on these days—we will take a day off and go to a party for anything—but we don’t go all out.
And perhaps Halloween is the whitest holiday of them all. It is a day dedicated to all things dark and scary. It must be nice to have so much privilege that you need to set aside a day to be afraid. Do you know what day feels like Halloween for black people? The days that end in “y.” The days where either the sun shines or the moon glows. All the days.
It’s difficult for us to muster up fake enthusiasm for a moonlit hayride on the back of a pickup truck through an abandoned cemetery when driving a Honda Accord through the middle of town at noon can be equally terrifying if we spot police lights behind us. Being chased after by a chainsaw-wielding man in a hockey mask instills only a fraction of the fear that a white man in a blue uniform can instigate.
Who needs a haunted house when we can just visit any of the thousands of museums, historic sites and old plantations and hear the screams of ancestors? Every other day, someone is tying a noose for us, whether it is a literal one for a high school sophomore or a figurative one for selling loosie cigarettes.
Floating bed linen with eyeholes is nowhere near as haunting as the images of our ancestors stacked in the bowels of ships like chopped firewood. When you reminisce about Emmett Till’s face being stomped to shards, or waking up to crosses burning on your lawn, it’s hard to be spooked by things that go bump in the night.
Not to mention the fact that people in black neighborhoods trick-or-treat all the time. I was always knocking on Miss Jackie’s door asking to borrow some sugar, or asking Mister Lunn down the street if we could hoop in his basketball goal. If you live in a real neighborhood, this is not a special event. If you don’t, trick-or-treating amounts to begging from strangers, and if there’s one rule black mothers instill in their children, it’s not to beg for anything. It’s the second lesson in the “Don’t make me come in there” series of lectures.
Perhaps the biggest reason Halloween is not really a thing in black America is that we wear disguises every day. We have perfected our mask-wearing ever since we were first kidnapped and dragged across the Atlantic. We learned how to muffle moans and stand stone-faced when tied to whipping posts. We were poker-faced when Bull Connor turned on hoses and let German shepherds chew chunks of skin.
We smile instead of screaming whenever anyone brings up black-on-black crime or how all lives matter. We hide our scowls when blatant privilege trumps our ability. We muffle frowns. We hide tears. Being black in America is an everlasting, perpetual, scary masquerade.
We can buy our own damn candy.
Michael Harriot is a podcaster, spoken-word poet, editor of the daily digital magazine NegusWhoRead, and one of the greatest makers of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches of our time.