We have a bit of a controversy brewing in my little community. Apparently, someone dressed up as Lil Wayne for a school Halloween party and colored their face as a part of the costume. The individual was informed that this was not OK, and the president of the university issued a public apology for the misunderstanding. This should have been an opportunity for a bit of education on the history of racism, and then everyone moved on.
But instead, in a show of true ignorance, people in this community have been filling Facebook up with rants about how the individual in question has done nothing wrong. I have read posts on how it is no different to paint your face black to represent an African American than it is to go to a tanning booth to get a tan. I have read posts on how African Americans are the ones who are privileged in this country, and they have more benefits than whites. I have read about how the intent of the costume was not malicious, and therefore there was no harm done. I have read posts that make me ashamed of how ridiculously privileged whites still are in this rural paradise I love.
The reason it is never OK to paint your face black to depict an African American is because that has already been done, many times. It was done when African Americans were not allowed to perform on stage, so whites painted themselves black, with exaggerated features, and acted silly, simple, and criminal as a way to dehumanize African Americans. There are records of it. It is not up for debate.
The fact that many of you can’t see that, that you feel victimized for not being allowed to paint your face black, is in itself proof that this type of discrimination is still a problem. At no time have your white ancestors in this country been dehumanized in such a way. You don’t understand why it is offensive because neither you or your ancestors have ever had to be offended like that.
Please at least attempt to show compassion and have empathy for those whose ethnic group has faced generations of being stereotyped by things like black face painting. Use this as an opportunity to learn something about our country’s past, and more importantly, to grow as a human being by being sensitive to the feelings of others who aren’t exactly like you.
Dress up as a Star Wars character. Zombies are really fun. But real people are not Halloween costumes. Ethnicity is not an accessory.