Even if it is only for a day, there is no denying that it's fun to be
someone else. For some, part of the fun is to be as different as
possible. Perhaps that's why some men put on drag, why some demure women
get their sexy on, and... why some white folks are drawn to blackface.
I'm far from qualified to offer real fashion advice, but after 25 years
on a college campus, I have seen my share of what not to wear. Let's
start with the obvious and go from there.
1. Blackface. Blackface is not ok. Ever. This is apparently complicated, so Twitter user @BobbyBigWheel made a nifty flowchart.
And no, there are no exceptions. It doesn't matter if you're trying to
impersonate a Black person or if you're going with Black friends (who
say it's ok). It doesn't even matter if you're not White or if you're
dressing up to honor someone or if it's part of a theatrical
performance. If this doesn't fully resonate...if you think that it's a
compliment or, at the very least, harmless fun, well, then you probably
don't know much about the history of blackface and aren't about to follow the link to learn.
2. Recently murdered Black men.
This obviously pertains to Black women and any other person who met a
violent death, but let's face it: It's usually a Black man and usually
combined with blackface, as in the images below.
3. Anything with a noose. Much like blackface, nooses have a history. Using a noose as part of a costume or as part of a Halloween decoration
dishonors, trivializes, and mocks that history. And no, you can't
"hang" what look like Black bodies (or conspicuous nooses) and then say
some version of "This is not about race. They're just dead bodies
because, you know, Halloween." Well you can, but don't expect folks to
take you seriously. Because no one who understands and respects the real
history would do such a thing and those who would do such a thing are
only using Halloween as cover for what they want to do every other day.
4. A racial, ethnic, or cultural group.
This one is so commonplace, especially in the sports world, that some
of us may not even realize it's racist. The Cleveland Indians and
Washington Redskins don't make it any easier, but it's not just the
professional sports franchises and their fans who are guilty of this.
There are still college and high school teams who use Indians as
"mascots" and even when a university formally gets rid of such images,
as the University of Illinois did recently with Chief Illiniwek (left),
students sometimes still like to bring the Chief back on special
occasions, like Halloween. More generally, any attempt to dress up as a
generic member of a group (i.e., a stereotype) rather than a specific
person is probably not going to end well. On the other hand, dressing up
as a specific person can also be a problem (see below):
Although Chief Illiniwek was officially retired by the University of Illinois in 2007, his likeness is still seen on campus time to time.5. A criminal whose crime reinforces harmful stereotypes.
This one is trickier than most on this list. Criminals come in all
shapes and colors and dressing up as a specific criminal is not
generally off limits, but some criminal acts have more stigma than
others, as, for example, sexual assault and violence against women. When
we dress up as, say Ray Rice in a domestic violence scene,
as below, we are essentially saying "ha ha...isn't domestic violence
hilarious?" and subtly implying that this is how Black men tend to act.
And when we dress up young kids in this fashion,
we (perhaps unintentionally) condone the behavior and even imply that
it wouldn't be so bad if little Johnny would do the same thing when he
grows up. I know. I know. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And yes, of
course I get that it's supposed to be a joke. But who/what is the butt
of this kind of humor? The way I see it, humor that pokes fun of
domestic violence or its victims is meanspirited, misogynistic, and not
at all funny. In other words, costumes like this are scary, and not in a
(image by Getty Images) DMCA
For mo re racial analysis of news and popular culture, join the | Between The Lines | Facebook page and follow Mikhail on Twitter.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
(Article changed on November 1, 2014 at 14:54)
Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D., is a member of the teaching faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches Psychology of Race and Ethnicity, Theories of Psychotherapy, and a graduate-level restorative justice practicum based at a youth detention center. An autobiographical essay of Mikhail's interests in race relations and basketball is available here.
Since 2009, Mikhail has been learning, facilitating, evaluating, and supporting others in the U.S. in learning about Restorative Circles, a restorative practice developed in Brazil by Dominic Barter and his associates. In addition to conflict and restorative practices, Mikhail also has a long-standing interest (going back about 20 years) in race and (more...)
|The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.