It’s almost Halloween, my favorite time of year… and before I’ve even started the seasonal festivities, I’m already brought down by some… disappointing (to put it lightly) costume choices. People are (rightfully) fuming. Trust me, it’s all over my Twitter feed.
Let’s start first with Julianne Hough’s costume no-no. The actress dressed up as Crazy Eyes from the popular show, “Orange is the New Black” for a Halloween party last Friday. That costume idea alone wouldn’t have been so bad, if it weren’t for the fact that Hough went so far as to wear blackface as part of her costume, which made social media users respond via Twitter rants and Facebook bashings. Hough has since apologized for her serious lack of judgment.
The character in the show is played by an African American woman, Uzo Aduba.
Next, and more disturbing, are the photos circulating the Internet of (white) people dressing up as Trayvon Martin. There have been a few different photos going through the social media vine, but almost all of them look the same. White men dressed in hoodies with Skittles and iced tea in their hands and a bloodstain on their chest. Oh, and they’re wearing blackface too. Aside from the shockingly casual use of blackface we’ve seen here, do I really need to explain what else is wrong with this costume?
Blackface was used in the 19th Century as entertainment for working-class white Americans. Minstrel performers would paint their faces black and sing songs, and these performances grew more and more racist over time.
Just because almost 200 years have passed since these racist shows were used for entertainment does not make it acceptable to bring them back. The history of blackface makes it impossible to be thought of as a joke, no matter how much time has passed.
Roxanne Gay’s article in the Opinion section of the L.A. Times hit the nail on the head:
“I choose to believe the[se people] don’t know how blackface was used to create offensive, degrading caricatures of black people — the exaggerated features, the buffoonery, the shuck and jive. The imagery from the 20th century was emblazoned across advertising and children’s toys. Time and again, black people in this country were told: ‘This is how we see you. This is what we think of you.’ Very little has changed.
Racist Halloween costumes are nothing new. Each year, people try to push the envelope. They think they’re being funny, but really, they’re using the freedom of Halloween, the pass we all get to indulge our secret selves, to say, to people of color: ‘This is how we see you. This is how we think of you.'”
I’m glad we live in a society in which people who do things like this can and will be called out for their actions. Our constant connectedness creates a sort of communal accountability; if you post something online that’s controversial, people will voice their opinions to you. The people donning these costumes probably had no inclination that the whole world would be talking about them. Well, they’re infamous now. Their photographs are being spread through almost any social networking site you can think of. Thanks to social media.