Yes, Halloween is more than candy.

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, October 24th, 2018 at 5:35 PM

‘Tis the season of Halloween where millions of young children dress up to go knocking for candy, and thousands of college students offend various ethnic groups and dress up as “sexy” (insert costume here). Candy makers bring in somewhere around $2.73 billion, according to the National Confectioners Association, and Hollywood exploits the hell out of the creepy lore surrounding the holiday. Halloween, like many American holidays, seems to have gotten more consumer driven as the U.S. becomes more secular. 

However, the existence of this loud, obnoxious and sometimes hurtful holiday, actually, in a very weird way, means something to me. 

Growing up in Erie in the early 2000s was tough. I didn’t see much of myself in my surroundings, the books I read, or the shows I watched. As a kid you just want to fit in. You want to feel as if the last thing people care about is the color of your skin, the coarseness of your hair, the lunch that you bring to school. 

My mom and her family came to America in the early ’90s after fleeing the Second Sudanese Civil War. She remembers the first time she saw snow was the day that she and her family landed at Erie International Airport. Like all the millions upon millions of immigrants that come here, America was a beacon of hope to my mom. It was a chance to escape instability — to see her younger sisters grow up free of worry, and to raise her future family without fearing economic collapse, a chaotic government or wars caused by tensions between ethnic groups. 

Growing up, she made sure that me and my siblings understood the privilege that we were born into: freedom to say whatever we wanted, a free education, water that ran cold or hot right into our house, sliced bread. 

My dad’s family is from the Deep South — Alabama — but he’s called Erie home for his entire life. Growing up he would tell us about school rivalries and the unspoken neighborhood boundary lines that exist all around the city. With a certain cynicism about him, he would remark that as a child he was not allowed to go into this neighborhood or that because someone would call the cops on the black kid walking through the streets. 

To these children of instability and senseless death, I, and my siblings lives where a piece of cake. 

But to me, a child of the post-civil rights era, the stares, comments and micro-aggressions of strangers were torture. 

My parents tried their best to show us the beauty of our culture; I grew up learning and speaking Arabic, my grandmother taught us how to make Sudanese food, and we visited my parent’s friends and our family often. But I spent more time participating in after-school activities with kids who were nothing like me and consuming popular media that didn’t reflect me.  

Halloween was that one period of time (because nowadays Halloween starts at the beginning of October) when it felt OK to be different. When it felt like being different was something to celebrate. The weirder you were, the more in-demand you were. All of a sudden everyone wanted to be from outer space, or below the Earth’s crust, or from the far-flung “country” of Africa, or Asia, or the Middle East. I never participated in the festivities, but in school my teachers would all of a sudden want me to talk about my culture, kids who laughed at my obsession with African mythology would want me to email them links to websites with stories and pictures. 

On the night of Oct. 31, I felt briefly comfortable in my skin because no one was judging — half of them probably couldn’t tell if I was in a costume or not.

In retrospect, I’m in awe of the insecurity I felt as a child and teenager. I let stares and the occasional rude comment ruin so many of the exciting things I was able to be a part of. But that’s a part of growing up. 

Halloween might be a consumerist money trap for so many Americans, but if done right it means so much more.

Shayma Musa can be reached at

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