Make a note of it.
I think I need to write prescriptive rules in certain arenas. Obviously one that’s been mentioned before is the rule against adoption-themed tee-shirts. The newest rule is no more theme parties for you.
Apparently Riverdale Christian Academy (California) held a graduation theme party on Friday. The theme? Southern plantations during the Civil War. Teachers and other employees put on blackface and dressed up as slaves. You can see the pictures and read the captions here. [Note: Somebody at the school had posted pictures but then decided to remove them. You can see saved copies at Racialicious.] The principal had this to say:
Doug Spencer, principal of the school and associate pastor of Riverdale Assembly of God, said the skits were meant to poke fun at graduating seniors, and not to offend anyone … Spencer, who said he was sorry for the controversy, said his school, with a student body of 150, has “three or four” black students. One of those students attended the party. Spencer said that while he is willing to apologize to anyone offended by the skits, he has not apologized to the unnamed student.
“It was not offensive,” Spencer said. “And she hasn’t asked for an apology.”
All in fun. Check! Not meant to offend. Check! Not offensive. Check! Dumb as a rock. Check! (oops, I keep forgetting that last one is not an official category)
The problem is not about offensiveness, per se, although I do wonder what might happen if one of the African American students were to confront Spencer about the blackface.
The problem is entrenching white supremacist thoughts in schoolchildren. The problem is endorsing a racist mockery of African American people. The problem is that slavery is not really funny. The problem is that the legacy of slavery is far reaching and affects all people, not just African Americans. The problem is the gross inequality of people of color in our society means that even when protests are made, white people don’t have to (and won’t) listen.
Being able to understand why this party was offensive would take a deeper understanding of the history of race and racism in our country. That’s a tall order for anyone, but may even be insurmountable for people who never thought twice about donning blackface.
Prescriptive rules are necessary because experience seems to indicate that people are incapable of understanding the concepts behind the rules. Like my mother used to say, “Just do it because.” You may not understand now, but you might later. And you’ll thank me.