What’s scarier than a clown or Michael Myers slashing his way through town? People who don’t realize the social issues with blackface and other offensive Halloween costumes.
Recently Megyn Kelly of NBC, who replaced the Today program’s black hosts Al Roker and Tamron Hall with the Megyn Kelly Today show in early 2017, attempted to defend the act of blackface in Halloween costumes.
Her ill-informed explanation as to why? That people did so when she was growing up.
Blackface involves using makeup to “mimic” a black person. It dates back to the 1800s when white actors would play the role of African-Americans, feeding stereotypes and otherwise dehumanizing black people – usually in the name of comedy.
Blackface is not OK. But as a white person, uneducated in African-American culture and the history of racism, Kelly thought otherwise.
While she did apologize, saying colleagues and friends made her realize her comments were wrong, a sorry doesn’t cut it in situations like these. Assuming quick forgiveness in response to racism amounts to exercising white privilege.
This is another reminder that, in 2018, a lot more work needs to be done to respect marginalized cultures and communities. Too many people use fun events and holidays to socially exclude and misrepresent the ethnicity of anyone who isn’t white.
For example, wearing an Indigenous headdress to a Halloween party is exploiting and ignoring a cultural symbol of strength and bravery.
The overused explanations, beginning with “back when I was a kid…” and ending in something defending racist or culturally appropriative costumes, need to be scrapped. What anyone stuck in the 1960s isn’t realizing is that these types of Halloween costumes have always been offensive. The only difference is that the people affected now have platforms to speak up and voice their opinions, invoking discussion and creating change. Another difference is that now more than ever, people are listening.
Clint Eastwood, another public figure who is ignorant to his own privilege, stated in 2016 that when he was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, “those things weren’t called racist,” referring to prejudiced slander.
When the U.S. parties were campaigning for the 2016 presidential election, Eastwood said he was leaning towards the Republicans because “people are tired of political correctness and ‘kissing up.’”
Another huge sign of white privilege and lack of understanding.
Whether this is the reason people are still going out on Halloween dressed in blackface, as Indigenous or even homeless people, or it is simply a cause born of ignorance, we shouldn’t be seeing these slip-ups year after year.
There is a clear line as to what is offensive and what isn’t, and figuring that out shouldn’t be hard or tiresome. If you are going to dress as a stereotype, especially of a minority, maybe just stay home this year.