Imraan Siddiqi had a pretty simple request for WalMart.
“One of my [extended] family lost nine of their family members to the bombing of Gaza last year—four of their children,” said Siddiqi, who is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Arizona.
Is it so hard, he wondered, for WalMart to not carry a child’s Halloween costume of an Israeli Defense Forces soldier—replica costume, toy Uzi and all?
The answer, apparently, is yes. The costume is still on sale on WalMart.com.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to sell the costume of any given regime out there,” he said. “I wouldn’t support a kids Egyptian Army uniform or Saudi Arabian Army uniform. Plus, there’s the gun.”
When members of the Palestinian community took to WalMart’s Twitter and Facebook in an effort to get the retailer to stop selling the item, some users pointed out that WalMart’s official description is considerably different from that of its vendor’s. AnyTimeCostumes.com, which sells the costume, describes the outfit like this:
“The Israeli Soldier Child Costume is a great ensemble for your little one this Halloween if they want to dress as a national hero! The all-inclusive outfit includes all of the pieces that your son needs to pull of [sic] this look… The outfit is also a great prop for playtime so that he can dress up and let his imagination run wild.”
Underneath the costume on WalMart’s site it reads, “The Israeli Soldier Costume for Kids includes product comes complete with: shirt, pants, belt and hat. When Halloween time rolls around, make this item part of your child’s complete ensemble.”
In other words, WalMart had already vetted—and changed the description for—this costume.
Meanwhile, until Tuesday morning, WalMart was still selling over-the-top caricature costumes of Middle Easterners—from a comically large, crooked prosthetic “Sheik Fagin nose” to a “Desert Prince headpiece,” replete with an exaggerated, bushy mustache. (WalMart later pulled the faux nose item from its website, but a cached version of the item can be viewed here.)
The caricatures all sit in stark contrast to WalMart’s “national hero” Israeli outfit—a note-for-note, near-standard issue reproduction of an IDF soldier’s outfit.
At this point, Siddiqi says, he’s simply disappointed in it all.
“It’s just tasteless to carry these types of costumes. It’s not the end of the world, per se, but it does have an effect on people and people perceive certain groups,” says Siddiqi.
Siddiqi knows the process by which this took place. It all happened last year, after all. WalMart had on its website a “Pashtun Papa” costume that was, in his words, “very racially insensitive—basically an old man with a long beard and a cap, made to look like a buffoon.” (Eventually, the costume was called out and removed.)
WalMart said it was one of their Halloween distributor’s costumes; the company just didn’t vet the supplier’s wares correctly. This is likely what’s happening here, and Siddiqi doesn’t think it’s asking too much of WalMart—which made $130 billion last year—to hire someone to look out for this sort of thing.
“You can have somebody vetting these kinds of things,” he said. “Create a position that can scour your vendors to make sure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen.”
Siddiqi understands that these places are going to exist. But it isn’t asking the world of the largest big box retailer to take a few minutes and weed out blatantly offensive ones that only denigrate one side of a polarizing issue while glorifying the other.
“The fact that these costume organizations—ones that make costumes with offensive stereotypes—that they exist, that’s fair. But the onus is on Walmart to know what they’re selling,” he said. “There are other Halloween costumes.”