I receive a weekly email from the New York Times that is a roundup of race-related issues called, you guessed it: "Race/Related."
I highly recommend that anyone wishing to understand race better subscribe to this. A skim of the headlines alone will be informative, and typically there are several items that I just have to read through.
This week, articles by Annie Correal and Saleem Reshamwala talked about Halloween costumes and why white people should pause and think through their choice of dressing up as a black person or character. The newsletter editor says:
Every year, it seems, people need to be reminded that skin color is not a costume; or as, Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance at the Southern Poverty Law Center, recently put it: "You can't take symbols or practices that are hurtful in the past and expect for your particular purposes that history disappears.""Race/Related," The Times
In other words, history, like black lives, matters. Just because you are engaged in make believe doesn't mean you're acting without any historical context. Reasonable people can argue this issue from all sides, but the questions I would put to anyone are:
We live in times where giving racial offense is abundant. Overwhelmingly, the offense given is by whites, the offense taken is by non-whites. The history of racism is what's boiling up to the surface, and it cannot be ignored.
Yes, let's be glad that a white person can identify with a black character and want to emulate them. If I wanted to "be" Michelle Obama for Halloween, I'd be challenged to create a costume that didn't include blackface, because I'm aware of the racist underpinnings of blackface and minstrelsy in our history. I know the pain it has caused. And why would I want cause pain through caricature, when my intent is to celebrate a female superhero?
Thank you , Mary, for highlighting past transgressions of Halloween. Although what I will share did not occur on Halloween, it definitely portrays what you are writing about. When I was in high school each spring a Minstrel Show was staged that included male students performing as black people by putting on make-up and acting in ways they thought were typical. This was of course far fetched-- there was only one small family who were black who lived in the town. They kept a very low profile, were literate and law-abiding citizens. At that time I did not have a raised consciousness regarding racial matters and in subsequent years I have wondered what this was like for them. Hopefully such Minstrel Shows are a thing of the past.
On the brighter side, one of the good things about kids moving from small towns to cities is that it's hard to avoid having your consciousness expanded. I know you have said you made this transitions (as I did). And today, anyone engaging in minstrel shows and stereotyped caricatures would surely be called out on it. At least I hope so.