Halloween – the one carnivalesque, even mildly subversive holiday celebrated across the U.S. Tonight costumes hide faces, bodies glitter, bodies bleed. Tonight homes are decorated with ghosts and corpses, severed limbs in yards, bloody handprints on windowpanes. Tonight we are allowed to play with identity and dread, to make a game of mingling them. But each year since Trump was elected these games become rougher, harder to play, and identity and dread mingle daily with very serious consequences.
When we were young, if we were lucky, we were protected by a parent or companion who led us to the dark, fearful house with the monster waiting by door. We were told it wasn’t real and were rewarded for facing our terror with candy and approval. This right of passage granted us an understanding that wearing costumes changed our relation to the idea that appearances defined identity and the boundaries of good and evil.
Tonight these same gruesome costumes and decorations are haunted by public shootings, racial violence, and the escalating terror faced by the oppressed of this nation. The presence of very real evil and real harm pervade public life in ways they never have before, even for many who have the magical protection of privilege. In Trump’s America every home is bloodstained and the ever-growing number of victims haunt us as soon the news picks up their story. Halloween, the holiday of masks and fantasy, has become the most honest night of the year. Through it we proclaim our national monstrosity and acknowledge it victims.
But Halloween has always been about dealing with the monstrous and the dead. In this spirit, I believe we should look deeply at the representations of horror and death around us. Let them be charged with real threat, real history. Be sickened. Be fearful. At the same time we should also evoke childhood Halloween, remember putting on the skin of the monster and learning that we shared its power.
Those in power have already made monsters of us and will make ghosts of us if they can. We need to remember that we can use the monstrous as a shield and a weapon. But, so we do not become monsters ourselves, we must also listen and learn from the suffering dead.