Saturday, October 29, 2011

We're a Culture, Not a Costume

A couple of weeks ago, I was on tumblr scanning through my dashboard, when I came across this:

This picture had me thinking, and I preceded to make this comment:
"Think about it.  You can say the same thing about dressing up as Native Americans, Eskimos, maybe even Greecians and Egyptians…."

Think about it.  Can you imagine how insulting it is for Native Americans, African Americans/blacks, and people of Japanese, Middle East, and other ethnic descent seeing their culture dressed up as a costume?  I'll never forget it.  During college - at around Halloween, I was with some friends at IHop.  While we were waiting to be seated, I saw this white guy dressed in a stereotypical Native American costume.  All I could think was "Wow...."  This gif. pretty much sums up my "internal" reaction at the time lol:

I think alot of the discomfort surrounding these costumes comes from stories of fraternities and sororities having parties where they dressed up in blackface or steotypical garb protraying other ethnicities.

However, there's something I can't help thinking about.  What about those who dress up as Vikings, or in traditional Irish or Swedish costume?  Heck what about samurai and ninjas (then again, you can always say that you're supposed to be an anime character), flapper girls, or dressing up in Victorian and medival costumes?  

I'll leave you with this conversation I read from ONTD (Oh No They Didn't) and more pictures from the campaign.  I wish I was able to tab forward and back with this.  Hopefully the letter ordering make sense:


A - like, black face is off limits and AWFUL. Absolutely, I think you'd have to be a fucking moron to think that's acceptable. But that's because of the historical implications of how it was used to de-masculinize blacks through minstrel shows in the 1800s and 1900s, and then later perpetuated through different media-related avenues (archetypes still seen in pop culture today).

but like.... Geishas? Really? I can't dress up in a historically accurate costume from another culture just because my ethnic background doesn't match it? I took a history class in college on the history of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and my professor (a white woman) dressed up in a traditional kimono and performed an entire authentic Tea ceremony for us.... is she being racist?

A black guy at my college (actually still a good friend of mine) dressed up Freshman year as a "WASP" and wore really pale make-up to make himself look white, used blonde hair color spray, and wore khakis, boat shoes, a bright pink Lacoste polo shirt, and a bright yellow sweater wrapped around his shoulders. Would that fall into the racist category?

B responding to A - someone posted what Gawker said about it which was along the lines of, if your costume is 'i'm being (this race) LOL' it's racist. In the example of your teacher, she was following tradition of Japanese culture, and respecting, rather than being like 'i'm a geisha girl hahahahahaha'. When it comes to your's just in poor taste imo. You can't be racist against white people because there's no history or institutionalized discrimination against white people. My opinion is, if you can't properly portray a person without "changing" your skin, it's not a good costume.

C to B - You can't be racist against white people because there's no history or institutionalized discrimination against white people.

There sort of is, a bit. Not all white people, but certain groups have been/continue to be discriminated against.

D to A - Geishas are one of the handful of stereotypes about Japanese culture - hell, even Asian culture to some people - so it really doesn't fucking matter how much background knowledge you know about the tea ceremony. It's reproducing the stereotype. Why don't you find some outfit a regular Japanese girl is wearing these days and say, "Hey, I'm dressed like a Japanese girl!"

Other cultures are defined in general to how different and exotic they are in relation to Western culture. It doesn't matter how lighthearted the intent it, dressing up as a stereotype just reinforces this idea.

Did you black friend reproduce stereotypes that contribute to the dehumanization of white people? No? Irrelevant example then.

E to A - It doesn't matter if you don't find it offensive.. the fact is apparently a lot of Japanese people DO. End of story.

A to E - ...but many Japanese DON'T find it offensive. Many Catholics find dressing up as a pregnant nun offensive, but it's still generally OK. If someone were to dress up as a "fat American" I'm sure there be plenty of offended people, but does that make it off-limits?

so if more than one person finds a costume "offensive", it's now off limits? Is it really a black and white issue, or is there a grey area?

F to A directly above - if someone wanted to dress up as a fat American in the US it's not like it would take a lot of work or offend a lot of people

there is a huge fucking difference between dressing up as a historically oppressed minority (neither Catholics nor the overweight, by the way) and well, not....

Further reading:
We're a Culture, Not a Costume - ONTD
We're a Culture, Not a Costume - CNN
Stop Racist Halloween Costumes - The Root
Pretty much just do a simple search on Google ;)

Sidenote:  Apparently in the very first picture above, the girl painted brown pretending to get bitten from a vampire was apparently supposed to be Lil' Wayne.

No comments:

Post a Comment