2007. 2008. 2009. I don’t have the energy to write the long post every year. But I write a bunch of short ones. Use the handy search box and input “Halloween” or “blackface” or “yellowface” and a scad of posts will pop up for your reading pleasure.
In the year 2010, one might hope that one might not have to tell people that they are contributing to systemic racism through their Halloween costumes. That such costumes play into dehumanization and ridicule of other groups. That our ethnicities are not something you can try on for fun.
But people still need to be told. And even when they have been told, they still just don’t get it. (I’m looking at you, dreadlock crafter! And don’t think I didn’t notice that you deleted a lot of comments that explained quite clearly just what was wrong with your Halloween costume.)
After several years of blackface incidents, the Northwestern Dean of Students had this to say (and note that the writer’s lede implies bright college students should be more aware of racism instead of happily bathing in it):
In an e-mail sent to the campus late Monday, Dean of Students Burgwell Howard warned against wearing racially or culturally insensitive costumes this weekend. He also discouraged “ghetto,” “pimps and hos” and “gangsta” parties at the esteemed Evanston university.
“Halloween is unfortunately a time when the normal thoughtfulness and sensitivity of most NU students can be forgotten and some poor decisions are made,” Howard wrote.
The directive follows a 2009 incident in which two students attended a Halloween party in black face and pictures of their costumes appeared on Facebook. The photos sparked outrage at the university and prompted a public forum to discuss racism on the predominately white campus.
In a similar 2007 episode, two Ph. D. students posted pictures of themselves in blackface around Halloween.
“In many cases the student wearing the costume has not intended to offend, but their actions or lack of forethought have sent a far greater message than any apology could after the fact,” Howard wrote.
And lest there be any confusion, Howard provided students with a list of questions to ask before selecting one’s Halloween attire: Is the costume based on making fun of real people or cultures? Does the costume promote cultural myths? Could someone take offense to it?
Students who answered “yes” to any of these questions were urged to rethink their choices.
The dean is still focusing on “sensitivity” and “offensiveness.” Which is problematic, because it provokes responses such as Those people are just oversensitive! and Everybody’s offended by something!
If you are speaking to people who have some measure of empathy, perhaps addressing “sensitivity” might actually work. But when you are talking to people about not perpetuating acts of racism when they have been steeped in a racist society and as a result have lost much of their empathy, they will simply refuse to hear.
sinoangle once told me I work much too hard to explain racism. Just the brown person’s burden, I guess. And since that conversation, I have tried to put the burden back on others. So now when I hear Those people are just oversensitive! I ask What if you are the one being undersensitive? When I hear Everybody’s offended by something! I ask What are you offended by? And when they answer, I propose a situation in which others are mocking them.
By the way, I am very good at digging in and not letting go. In case you hadn’t already guessed.
The beauty of sinoangle’s thought process (and here I acknowledge the superior rightness of same with much love and gratitude) is that it causes people to examine their ignorant knee-jerk responses. Because they are the people being put on the spot.
Before I used to spend inordinate amounts of time giving thoughtful, reasoned explanations. And in response I would get one of the many WHIB’s that fly out of people’s mouths without any actual brain involvement. Good grief! Why should I give so much if I’m going to get such a shallow response in return? Work it, baby. Make them go away frustrated for once.
And now I have written the long post. So please pass the Halloween candy. I deserve it.
Edited to add: I see Colorlines is on top of it.