Without a sense of what is right everything is wrong

When I was a kid Halloween was my favorite holiday. First, candy! Second, costumes! Third, you could be a little naughty!

Finally, my parents were not the most inquisitive people and didn’t realize the pagan and Christian influences on the holiday. They liked it because unlike Christmas, at least to their perceptions, it didn’t have a religious connotation which conflicted with Islam. They allowed me to participate with any guilt.

I try not to live through my kids, so holidays for me are not about recreating my own childhood. It’s for allowing them to have fun. Holidays are a big deal for kids.

With Halloween coming up we’ve been giving thought to our kid’s costumes. My daughter and elder son have some opinions. There was some mention that perhaps my daughter could be Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. My daughter is not really too into princesses. I’ve heard her spend more time talking about dwarf planets than princesses (especially her favorite, Haumea). But she likes Tiana, and we’ve watched the movie together.

Ultimately we went with something animal related (in keeping with some previous years when she was a lion and a duck).

Nevertheless, this email I received from her elementary school today is deeply annoying to me:

It’s Halloween, but we can’t scare the kids too much? (fake blood does seem like it would be a huge mess so I can understand that) No masks, of course, nixes many costumes, but I guess I can go along with that for security reasons?

But the part about “No costumes representing an ethnicity, race, religion or culture, other than your own” kind of rubbed me the wrong way. My wife was livid. Our children are mixed race, so what does that mean for them? In fact, half of my daughter’s elementary school class is mixed race. Also, my daughter already knows she is an atheist. Does that mean she couldn’t dress up as a nun like Mother Theresa if she admired her? The whole email seemed to presuppose that the world consists of discrete and separable races and cultures. You simply identify with one, and that delimits your possibilities.

My daughter attends an Asian language immersion school where one of the teachers is a recent immigrant who clearly does not understand American culture very well. She wouldn’t have even known to write about much of this. This mandate was clearly written by an administrator. The aim of the whole email was to head off any complaints from parents. But it’s written in such a heavy-handed and general manner that it’s bound to cause widespread irritation.

We’re a diverse country with many ethno-racial, religious, and ideological groups. There are no common standards at this point on what is and isn’t offensive. Perhaps some Christian parents would be offended if a little kid showed up at a school-sponsored Halloween party as the devil? I strongly suspect that the race and religion bans above really target mostly white kids who dress up as racial minorities…but it’s written in a general way so as not to offend those parents too (but in the process irritates others).

Whatever we’re doing, it’s not making many people happy, though it is insulating administrators from making personal judgments. My daughter is a smart kid (she has shocked even me in her ability to infer general principles from specific cases), and my wife and I have already had conversations about how to insulate her or make her aware of the low level of intellect which now dominates our public ideologies. My wife has studied the Chinese language and the history of the Cultural Revolution, and though obviously there is a difference of degree she regularly contends that there are analogies between what is now happening in the United States and what happened in China in the 1960s. I do unfortunately believe that my daughter will grow into maturity into a country which is in many ways second-rate and mediocre in the things which our family values. We are thinking hard about how to prepare her for a different future than the ones we expected when we were children in the 1980s.

12 thoughts on “Without a sense of what is right everything is wrong

  1. This is pretty incoherent (also bizarre).

    What are you so upset about here? The presumption of monoracialism or the implied request to not be a dick in making costume choices?

  2. In 1996 I was confident that my biracial kids wouldn’t have much trouble. Not so sure now, and it isn’t the kooky KKK types that worry me.

  3. The rule: “No costumes representing an ethnicity, race, religion or culture, other than your own” is symptomatic of the decent of the left into intellectual chaos.

    In the context of race (being a synecdoche for e,r,r,&c), the left believes that race is an essence received at birth, and that no one not to the manner born may partake thereof without grave offense.

    In the context of LBGTQRSLMNOP* and of contemporary feminism, the argument is that humans have no biological essence, and that everything about human thought and behavior is a product of societal norms and conventions. (A learning process I suppose, there being no telling as to what, how, when, and where it is learned.) Therefor, if Rachel Dolezal says she is African American, she is, and you may not question her declaration.

    How a leftist is supposed to hold both of these ideas in his, her, or its little head is quite beyond me. Although I suppose that their training in pc and the ability to duckspeak goodthink is the definitive proof of their virtue.

    *I don’t know what “RSLMNOP” means either. Although I am sure it means something.

  4. As I have been thinking about my own children, I have been influenced by your recent turn towards pessimism, as well as recent posts by Scott Alexander and Scott Aaronson on the “Kolmogorov option.”

    When I was young, I was an outspoken conservative. I certainly paid a price socially in college, but this was an acceptable outcome to me.

    Now, the costs are just too great, and I explicitly council my children that there are certain things that are only discussed in the home, and that they should nod and agree with the propaganda they are taught in school.

  5. As distinct from milqetoasty Mother’s day or Valentine’s Day, (so-called Hallmark holidays), or 4th of July or President’s Day (nation-state apparatus self-congratulation), Halloween emerged as a feral nocturnal folk urge, and as such, it doesn’t belong in the more formal setting of school in the first place. #De-sanction Halloween

  6. At my current job I’m in the odd situation where I get a front seat view to the whole “Cultural Revolution”, but I’m fairly insulated from it personally and socially by my blue collar roots and occupation (my level of education and outside interests come as something of a surprise to people in my wider workplace when they learn of it).

    That said, as stifling and oppressive the social and intellectual mores of educated white collar workers are currently, I would trade it in an instant for the slow motion apocalypse of economic and social disintegration going on in the working lower and middle classes that I and my extended family are currently going through.

    A second rate and mediocre future is putting it mildly.

  7. Razib,

    “We’re a diverse country with many ethno-racial, religious, and ideological groups. There are no common standards at this point on what is and isn’t offensive. ” Perhaps because there are no common standards, or for that matter, a truly “dominant” identity group to enforce its norms/preferences in a hierarchy, for the past two generations that we now have people such as the administrator writing such norms out of thin air? Humans are by nature hierarchical, and nature abhors a vacuum, so perhaps that created the opening for the PC commissars to enter in as a credible “arbitrator” for such potential inter-ethnic friction/conflict?

  8. To me, the school is simply saying “this is just supposed to be a fun thing, let’s try to avoid causing any waves”.

    I don’t see any political correctness at all here. They’re not actually saying that you have to identify with one race. I interpret it more as “we’d actually prefer you avoid any ethnic costumes altogether but people will throw a fit if they can’t represent their identity, whatever that is”.

    In fact, I’d guess that this was implicitly the standard during your own school years. Was it?

  9. Interesting that your Muslim parents approved of Halloween since it is not overtly Christian. I have some Orthodox Jewish relations who refuse to celebrate Halloween precisely because they see it as a Christian holiday; meanwhile, I spent some time in ultra-traditionalist Christian denominations that rejected Halloween because they saw it as a pagan and anti-Christian celebration. It certainly seems to mean different things to different people.

    The email’s warning does seem dangerously broad. I do appreciate that every community has standards of decency and your school may be simply expressing those standards, but I wonder how much of these standards are being imposed by outsiders on unwilling locals. If a lot of school-supporting parents might be offended, that’s one thing; if some Education Department bureaucrat is just looking to make trouble, that’s something else.

  10. @Spike

    as stifling and oppressive the social and intellectual mores of educated white collar workers are currently, I would trade it in an instant for the slow motion apocalypse of economic and social disintegration going on in the working lower and middle classes that I and my extended family are currently going through.

    The stifling facilitates the cleaving of the professional and managerial class from the blue collar class. It hampers the questioning of convention wisdom and allows them in good conscience to believe that the lower classes are getting what they deserve.

  11. Just a quick comment, since a similar question came up on a friend’s Facebook feed. They probably meant that you can’t represent another ethicity, it didn’t exclude a person of another ethnicity. Hence you can be Einstein, but not a Hasidic Jew. Frida Kahlo, but not a Bandito. Saddam Hussein, but not some random Arab sheikh.

  12. “No costumes representing an ethnicity, race, religion or culture, other than your own”

    Your kids are mixed race. This just calls for half and half costumes (two-face style) of the most offensive national stereotypes you can muster….

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