With the COVID-19 crisis threatening to extend through Halloween, social media users are looking for ways to get into the spirit from home. One of the most popular ways on TikTok is the “ghost photoshoot” trend which has taken the platform by storm. However, while the trend seems to have started with good intentions, some are pointing out a disturbing similarity to a dark chapter of American history.
The trend requires nothing more than a white sheet and a TikTok account. Users simply drape themselves in a white sheet with eyeholes, take some funny pics, and set them to the tune of “Oh Klahoma” by Jack Stauber.
Insider traced the trend to a clip from TikTok user Jack Janson, who posted the first “ghost photoshoot” to the platform on September 9. The 15-year-old said he was “craving that Halloween vibe,” and was inspired by the album cover for Phoebe Bridger’s Stranger in the Alps.
Janson’s idea caught on like wildfire on TikTok, where the hashtag #ghostphotoshoot currently has over 2 billion views. Since then, users have flooded the site with their own ghostly shoots.
However, not everyone was thrilled with the new TikTok trend. As ghost photoshoots have gone viral, many social media users have pointed out an unsettling similarity to white sheets worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK.
“If I saw a group of people dressed up like this, I would run for my life,” commented one Twitter user. “Please think about the possible associations with this ghost trend.”
When I see white people in white sheets, ghosts aren’t the first thing I think of. Just looking at this makes me nervous.— Imaeyen Ibanga (@iiwrites) September 23, 2020
As The Daily Beast noted, the use of bedsheets to represent ghosts dates back to the European theatre, where they were used as a recognizable indicator of a spirit or apparition. The costume was even appropriated by criminals and pranksters in the early 19th century — long before the KKK was formed.
However, some scholars say it isn’t necessarily a mistake to associate the two.
“The ‘ghostly’ imagery of [KKK] robes was intentional, as the KKK’s original aim was in part to portray spectral figures that would terrorize its targets,” said David Cunningham, chair of the sociology department at Washington University. “Today, the Klan’s white sheets are perhaps the most widely-known and resonant symbol of organized racism, and as such they clearly echo in ‘ghost’ costumes such as the one we’re seeing on TikTok.”
For his part, Janson said he had no ill intentions when he started the trend.
“In my head, obviously I would never have that intent with a photoshoot I have,” the teen told Insider. “But definitely there are some people that are getting angry, and I totally understand that.”