Halloween is a time for children to dress up, trick-or-treat and have a fun and safe night. It is a way for them to express themselves in a different way by impersonating something, or someone else.
On Oct. 31, in Jamestown, Tennessee, seven teenagers dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan in the group’s white robes and hoods. There was a video fourteen second video posted to Youtube titled, “2019 Halloween in Jamestown Tennessee,” showing the high schoolers walking around a drive-in.
There has been an outcry against allowing these costumes in the local community. While there were no actual crimes committed, people have thought it was inappropriate to dress in that manner.
While Kasey Jones (’22) had not heard about the incident she said she was not surprised.
“As an education student, it worries me that students want to dress like that,” said Jones. “It makes me wonder what their home life is like and what influences they have.”
This is not the first time that Halloween costumes have become controversial. In past years, there have been issues from people dressing as members of the Ku Klux Klan. In 2013, a mother in Virginia allowed her seven-year-old son dress in the outfit claiming it was “family tradition.”
Halloween costumes have been under closer watch in recent years as people are becoming more sensitive to cultural appropriation. There have been questions about whether it is okay to dress as characters such as Moana, Pocahontas, Aladdin and many others.
“I think that people shouldn’t be dressing as geisha or indigenous women for Halloween and see why people are upset,” said Stephanie Eckstorm (’22). “It’s another level to be a Klan member because they were a hate group.”
This issue has led to the question regarding when freedom of expression is protected and when is it not. It also requires people to look for a line to be drawn about what is okay and what is not in regards to actions.
Freedom of expression is an unenumerated right. This means that it is not directly spelled out within the constitution, but it is implied. There are direct protections of freedom of speech and press which many interpret to protect other ways of self-expression that go beyond just words.
Dr. Nicholas Dixon, professor of philosophy, believes that costumes are protected under the First Amendment and points out the Supreme Court case, National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie (1977). In this ruling, they said it was legal for Nazis to march in full regalia.
“In general, I think that costumes that demean or degrade a group of people, like ones involving blackface, are morally problematic,” said Dixon. “I would also criticize costumes designed to make fun of people who have experienced tragedies like mass shootings. To mock people who are already vulnerable seems cruel and callous.”
This is an issue that should be addressed in regards of when it is okay to express themselves and when it crosses a moral line.
“Expressions should be cut off when people are or were harmed by what you are doing,” said Eckstorm. “You have to think about the historical context and what they did and how it affected people.”
The situation is complicated when looking at how people understand certain topics and how they are addressed in society. There is a balance between the laws and morality that needs to be considered.
“There is a fine line sometimes on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable,” said Jones. “I definitely think that there needs to be some more awareness on this topic.”