By Beverly Gadson-Birch
Halloween is children’s most favorite times next to Christmas. They get to dress up as their favorite characters and go door to door trick or treating. Like most experiences for children, they start out innocently and oftentimes grow out of control. I can remember my days trick or treating and it was all about the treats. And, the tricks were innocent little jokes intended to scare you. Now, some folks are seizing the innocence of Halloween and taking it to another level. Little innocent jokes have turned racial and some have even proven deadly!
So where did this scary phenomenon originate? I decided to do a Google check and much to my surprise Halloween is an “age-old European tradition and originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. It’s about the Celts’ beliefs and the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead. They celebrated their new year on November 1 so the night before, October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when they believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.” So, Halloween evolved from the Celtic festival of Samhain, All Saints’ Day to Hallows Eve and Halloween as we now know it. Then, the likeness of the celebration reached across the ocean to America. Halloween slowly went from magical and ghostly to sinister and evil.
In a recent College of Charleston incident, several students publicly displayed racial epitaphs. Halloween brings out the best and worse in some. The problem is the worse is ever present in some folks. There is an element in this country that refuses to let racism die. And, when that element flares up like it did at the College of Charleston, it’s a constant reminder of just how deeply rooted racism is in America.
For those of you who don’t know the story about Freddie Gray, it was one of the most horrendous act perpetrated against an individual and is nothing to joke about. Freddie Gray was arrested for what police called possession of an illegal switchblade. He was beaten, put in a transport van and ended up dead. If you saw the pictures of the officers practically dragging Gray to the van after restraining him, it was obvious something was wrong. Gray could not stand up. It was alleged that Gray was not wearing a seat belt and somehow was tossed around in the van resulting in his spinal cord injury. Gray is dead and that certainly is nothing to joke about. So, how do we get to a Halloween “joke” out of the death of a human being? Let’s get beyond the fact that Freddie Gray was a black man. He was a human being. And, I am not going to address the other student’s display of the “N” word on his body. The act speaks for itself. How long am I going to be white folk’s nigger? How long? How long are you going to past your prejudices down to your children? How long are you going to disrespect and make light of my existence?
I am hopeful that the College of Charleston will conduct a thorough investigation and let the chips fall where they may. If the students are in fact College of Charleston students, they should be expelled. Their disrespect and disregard for their fellow students sums it all up. Halloween is not the time for racial pranks. It’s a time for the little ones to celebrate one of their most celebrated days. They look forward to dressing up in their favorite costume and collecting bags of goodies. Children need to be able to relate to good experiences. Although Halloween is not my favorite time of the year, it’s a favorite for the children. It’s why I get goodies ready and greet them at the door with a smile just like my neighbors did when I was growing up. That’s what Halloween is all about. It’s about the smile and innocence of children. It’s about the spooks and goblins of their little imaginations and not about racism.