Controversial costumes are now as synonymous with Halloween as pumpkins and candy corn, but some recent Walmart costumes have pretty much everyone wondering what the heck they were thinking.
This week heavy online backlash forced the retailer to pull two offensive items from their website and store shelves: a kids’ Israeli soldier costume complete with a toy gun, and a prosthetic nose called the ‘Sheik Fagin nose’ — an allusion to a Charles Dickens character that perpetuates racist stereotypes.
According to Yahoo, many chided Walmart for selling such insensitive costumes at a time of “increased Israeli-Palestinian violence.” According to the BBC, over 40 Palestinians and nine Israelis have died in unrest in Israel and the Palestinian territories just this month. It’s a highly complex and volatile situation and certainly not appropriate to reduce to unnecessary and insensitive Halloween items.
Many voiced their concerns on Twitter, where user lenambadr wrote, “Please tell me this Walmart Halloween costume of an Israeli soldier for kids isn’t real.” The American Arab Anti-Discriminatory Committee even spoke out, issuing a statement that read, “The glorification of Israeli soldiers juxtaposed with the mockery of Arab people promotes an anti-Arab racism that is all too common in America.” Someone also started a Change.org petition asking Walmart to remove the items from their stores.
As of this writing, links to the items no longer work, though Walmart has declined to comment on their removal. As Yahoo notes, they were being sold on behalf of a third party seller, but that’s still no excuse for them ever making it onto the website. The Israeli soldier costume is even still available for sale on Amazon.
This is not the first or the last time a retailer has taken heat for selling insensitive and stereotypical costumes. Last month, Walmart got in trouble for selling a “Little Amigo” costume with a poncho and sombrero. Even shopping for costumes with my kids as recently as last week, I saw costumes promoting stereotypes about Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, and many other cultures.
It shouldn’t need to be said but cultural identities and racist stereotypes are not costumes. You don’t just get to put something on and ignore its social, political, and historical ties. What’s “just a costume” to you can be offensive to others, and it’s worth it to consider what kinds of beliefs and ideas a costume is promoting — especially when you’re sticking it on a little kid.
Walmart did the right thing in pulling these costumes, and they’d do well to more thoroughly scrutinize their Halloween selection in the future.