A year ago, lecturer Erika Christakis wrote an email criticizing Yale’s attempt to control students’ Halloween costumes. Christakis suggested that students, as adults, are capable of policing themselves, that the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable costumes is contestable, and that Halloween is holiday meant to allow people to indulge in certain transgressions. Students harassed her until she left her job. You can watch here as a mob of students at Yale University surrounded her husband, Nicholas Christakis, to browbeat him into submission after he stood up for Erika.
What’s ironic about all of this is that almost all of these Yale students, though desperate to prevent racist and insensitive cultural appropriation, would later go on to engage in insensitive, racist cultural appropriation themselves, as they have done year after year since early childhood.
Let’s be clear: Halloween is for Irish people and for Irish people only. Or, more precisely, it’s for people who are of sufficiently robust Gaelic descent. If you are not Irish, but you celebrate Halloween, then you are engaging in racist cultural appropriation.
If you know anything about Irish history (I assume the Yale students in question do not), you know that the Gaelic people have been systematically oppressed, murdered, raped, enslaved, starved, and abused. Even the word “Halloween” stems from cultural imperialism and genocide, as the Christian conquerors replaced the authentic holiday of Samhain with their Christianized holidays of All Hallows’ Day and All Hallows’ Eve (i.e., Halloween).
Samhain is a rich holiday with a noble and storied tradition. It’s a holiday that belongs to a formerly (and to some degree, currently) oppressed ethnic group. Yet most people in the US and Canada, and many in Europe, Mexico, South America, and elsewhere, feel free to appropriate this sacred festival for their own purposes. They mock it by wearing inauthentic costumes, drinking too much (itself a racist mockery of the drunken Irish stereotype), and exchanging inauthentic store-bought candies instead of the traditional treat.
Again, for non-Irish person to participate in Halloween at all is equivalent to a white person donning a traditional Native American headdress or wearing blackface. The American Halloween tradition, which encourages everyone to mock and insult the sacred Irish festival of Samhain, is at least as insulting as Chief Wahoo, the “Redskins” name, or the Blackhawks’ logo.
I sure hope the woman with her fist raised in the picture below did not trick or treat at any point in her life. If she did, she’s a racist, and she owes Irish people an apology. If she has celebrated Halloween, I hereby give her the middle finger, and I expect a written apology immediately.
As we all know, the norm at American universities is that anyone who is slighted is thereby entitled to make demands. On behalf of people of Irish descent everyone, I demand Yale University take the following actions:
1. Yale University’s President Peter Salovey must immediately issue a memorandum explaining the festival of Samhain to students and urging students not to participate in Halloween celebrations unless they are of at least 50% Irish descent.
2. Yale University must create an Irish studies program to bring to light the long history of rape, slavery, murder, conquest, and theft the Irish have suffered at the hands of the English and others. The Irish studies classes should also highlight the mistreatment of Irish immigrants to the United States. All Yale students must take at least one such class in order to graduate.
3. Professor Christakis should be fired immediately, without tenure review, for his part in perpetuating and legitimizing the racist appropriation of Samhain.
4. Any student of non-Irish descent who participates in any form of a Halloween celebration should immediately be placed on suspension, and should be required to attend 2 weeks of cultural sensitivity classes.
5. Yale University should make a commitment to hiring at least 10 faculty of Irish descent within the next 2 years.
6. Yale University must have a day of remembrance on campus in which speakers are invited to discuss the atrocities and attempted genocide the Irish faced at the hands of the English.