For slow learners everywhere: A culture is not a costume.
But people never learn. Apparently Pottery Barn sold “geisha” and “sushi chef” costumes this year. Then offered a lukewarm “apology“:
We did not intend to offend anyone with our Halloween costumes and we apologize.
Well, it was brief, which is typically good (because less words means less chance of digging even deeper, and STFU is one of the general rules). But Pottery Barn mentioned both their intention and offense, which aren’t relevant at all. (Here’s a brief guide to apology for the clueless.)
“Intention” is focused on the perpetrator. When people say they “didn’t mean to do anything racist,” it’s more likely that it never occurred to them that racism isn’t a good idea. Or that they are so used to racism being ingrained into our culture that they didn’t think twice. Or that they thought it was funny. Or clever. Or because they never thought that somebody else might object.
I might argue that people who perpetuate racism actually did intend to do so. Because they willfully ignored history and culture and context. Because they chose not to recognize the racism that surrounds them. Like “colorblindness,” they noted something relevant and then purposely pretended it did not exist.
As for “offensiveness,” I tend not to talk about racism in terms of whether I am personally offended anymore. I talk more about how actions perpetuate a racist system. When people talk about “offensiveness,” they also often talk about how those people are so easily offended or everybody is offended by something or about political correctness or about it doesn’t bother me but I guess I’m just not oversensitive.
Maybe the problem isn’t that some of us are oversensitive, but that others of us are insensitive.
While I’m at it, for the two-fer:
There is apparently no shortage of people who feel that dressing like Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman is funny. Because a black kid getting murdered is hilarious. Plus you get to put on blackface.
I don’t understand why this is so damn difficult for people to understand. But I’m pretty sure it has to do with the costs of racism.