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Am I a racist for thinking the 'illegal alien' costume is funny?

October 19, 2009 | 12:10 pm
Costume Yet more confirmation of my suspicion that becoming an activist requires swallowing your sense of humor:

Immigrant rights activists are calling on U.S. retailers to stop selling two controversial "Illegal Alien" costumes that have surfaced for Halloween, saying the outfits are a broadside attack on illegal immigrants.

The "Illegal Alien Adult Costume," manufactured by Forum novelties, includes an orange jumpsuit, similar to prison garb, with "Illegal Alien" stamped in black across the chest; a space alien mask; and a fake Green Card. The "Illegal Alien Mask with Hat" also includes a space alien mask, this time with a dark handlebar mustache and a baseball cap.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said it began receiving e-mails from concerned legal immigrants on Friday. In response, CHIRLA wrote a letter asking several retailers, including Target, Walgreens, and Amazon.com, to stop offering the costume.

As of Saturday afternoon, Target had pulled the products, and some links to the costumes on other sites were no longer functional.

Read the whole story from CNN here. Read a sympathetic round-up at Think Progress here.

The "Illegal Alien Mask with Hat" costume, which includes an actual racial element in the handlebar mustache, seems beyond on the pale; I can't say the same for the other outfit. If anything, the orange-jumpsuit costume, pictured above, comes across more as a riff on anti-immigrant hysterics -- whose use of the nakedly scaremongering term "illegal alien" betrays a kind of mindless, childlike, sci-fi fear of invaders from outer space -- than actual border-crossing undocumented immigrants. Think of the 2004 comedy flick Team America's portrayal of Arab Muslims, who say little more than, "Derka derka, Muhammed jihad," with an occasional "Allah" thrown in. The targets weren't Arabs, but the hawkish view that Muslims as a whole were little more than jihad-obsessed radicals. I can't speak to the costume-makers' intent, but the activists calling for retailers to stop selling the outfits argue based on their perception; likewise, I'm offering mine. (For the record, I fall on the "path to citizenship" side of the immigration reform debate.)

Is this costume offensive to you? Am I totally wrong here? Feel free to post your comments below.

-- Paul Thornton

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