November 3, 2014

THOMAS | Masked Racism

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I will admit that I love controversy. It shows me that people are thinking ideas out and formulating their own opinions. It shows me that people are not thinking in uniform and simply believing everything they are told. When it comes to controversy I do not force myself to disagree with certain popular opinions just to find things to write about. I do, however, scour the news to find instances in which my opinions and popular opinion are not in accordance. I have stated before that I truly believe that only controversial opinions are worth writing about.

For the past couple weeks — when thinking about what I wanted to touch on with this column — I continually saw articles about offensive Halloween columns. Yes, it is obvious that dressing up as Ray Rice and his beaten wife was far from harmless. I am not even going to bother writing about costumes that are so obviously distasteful. I am, however, going to touch on costumes with racial and ethnic tones, especially costumes that involve blackface. When first thinking about blackface, I believed that it was not inherently offensive. I am often upset when the only thing stopping people from changing their opinion on an act or word is simply the history behind it. I believed that there were tasteful uses for blackface that could improve costumes. For instance, when wearing a skeleton costume for Halloween many people paint their faces white in order to make their outfit more accurate. So when a Caucasian male wants to dress up, as Kanye West wouldn’t it simply make his costume more effective and uniform if he painted his face black? What’s could possibly be so harmful about that?

I even saw the use of blackface as a stride in racial prejudices in America. Not too long ago, darker skin was seen as offensive and less valuable. Now, little kids are making their skin darker in order to look more like the celebrities they look up to, like Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Nonetheless, with everything seemingly good there is always a frighteningly bad side to it that a conversation with my best friend really turned my attention to. That is, of course, the use of blackface to reinforce black stereotypes. When somebody wants to dress up as a “gangster” and decides to throw on some blackface to really drive the point home or using blackface to really make that felon costume pop. This is the real problem that American society doesn’t seem ready for. The second people begin to relax on the use of blackface is the second that its use will begin to blossom in an inappropriate manner. There’s too fine of a line of what make blackface offensive and what doesn’t. In my personal experiences, it seems that once blackface is used hilarity ensues. Even when used to make someone look like Kanye and other celebrities the pleasure derived from the one in the costume and onlookers soon makes me feel uncomfortable.

However, blackface is not the only racial tone in Halloween costumes. How about those that wear bandanas and a flannel with only the top button in use and call themselves “cholos?” This is just one of the many offensive costumes I have seen out and about during the several college nights of Halloween. This Halloween, during one of the nights I dressed up as the classic preppy country club goer because I wanted to do a lazy costume. I was soon faced with the question, “What are you, a white guy?” I took on the question in stride and took on the role. During select encounters when asked what I was, rather than the country club answer I simply responded that I was a white guy in order to observe their reactions. After a lifetime of hearing people tell me they dressed as a black man for Halloween, it was very interesting to see some people find hilarity in my answer whereas some sported looks of confusion that I could easily empathize with. Although blackface can be used with good intentions it simply cannot produce good results. We do not live in a “post-racial” America and we are not ready for the implications of racially toned costumes. If you are willing to continue to offend entire ethnic and racial groups with your insensitive homage to other cultures, remember that it’s not me, it’s you.