This Halloween, Don’t Be a Racist Jerk

How about everybody skip the blackface this year, ok?

coloardoStill need a costume for Halloween? Here’s an idea: How about going as Not a Huge Jerk?

This isn’t so much a costume, admittedly, as a choice to avoid offensive, hurtful costumes. That means no blackface, and especially no blackface impersonating dead young black men. This means no pimps, no rednecks, no Long Duck Dong costumes, no geishas, no “squaws.” Basically, if you A) think you’re being funny and B) are wringing laughs from impersonating somebody of another culture or race, then C) you’re probably making a very bad choice.

“Melanin is not a costume,” a producer for Melissa Harris Perry tweeted over the weekend. “Blackface is wrong and racist. So don’t do it, folks.”




Because this is America and nothing is exempt from the culture wars, such a rule-of-thumb is bound to be greeted with hostility. Indeed, my friend (and occasional nemesis) Steven Hayward, the conservative writer, over the weekend lamented about Colorado University’s plea to students to avoid “stereotypical and offensive costumes.”

“While everyone has the freedom to be expressive,” the communiqué said, “we also encourage you to celebrate that you are a part of a vibrant, diverse CU community that strives toward respecting others.”

Seems sensible to me: An acknowledgement of every student’s right of self-expression, combined with a common-sense acknowledgment that some expression can be hurtful. “Political correctness,” Hayward calls it, but that downplays the virtues of political correctness. What we now call “PC” used to be known as good old-fashioned “politeness”—there was a time, I’m told, when adults didn’t go around hurting feelings just for the sake of hurting feelings, nor for the sake of their own cheap entertainment. They practiced a little self-restraint rather than needlessly hurting their neighbors.

The folks who didn’t? They were seen as simply rude.

That ethos is all but dead today, it seems: We’ve elevated the willingness to give offense—which occasionally is necessary—into one of the cardinal virtues, where even then it has become prone to abuse. We’ve apparently decided that since there is no right not to be offended, we should give the concept no weight at all. That’s unfortunate.

So how can you decide what’s an appropriate costume? Two rules of thumb: Again, stay away from impersonating any culture or race that’s not your own. Even if you have a brilliant idea, it’s almost certainly not going to be worth the trouble.

Second, figure out which way you’re punching. If you’re “punching down”—if the costume makes fun of somebody poorer, less powerful, more persecuted than you—you’re not being funny. You’re being a bully. “Punching up,” meanwhile, is an old, respected form of satire.

Granted, combining all these rules can be tricky in a nation where we have an African American president. Is impersonating him punching up or punching down? It probably depends, but you’ll want to be cautious. Just ask yourself: “Am I going to hurt somebody’s feelings with this costume? If so, is that offense worth it?” And if you still can’t decide, maybe leave the costume at home. Halloween is a kid’s holiday, anyway.

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  • Turk502

    My friend went as “Tan Mom”. Is that OK, or is it too much melanin?

    • D’win

      Your friend is way too many shades of you to pass.

  • PPABootSquadVinnie

    For crying out loud, will You People [yes, I said 'you people'] quit

  • PPABootSquadVinnie

    For crying out loud, You People are killing me. Stop complaining and looking to be offended by Every Little Thing. This is the reason there is no serious discussion of racism, because youse nitwits are too distracted by the little things [and bright shiny objects]. Be who you want-a Washington Redskin, Dr. Frank N. Furter, Custer at the Little Big Horn [complete with arrows], a Bum, Al Jolsen in blackface, Charlie Chan, the Frito Bandito, Bojangles, Slutty Nurse, Slutty Cheerleader, Sexy Big Tits Librarian. It’s all about How you treat your fellow man, Not about the clothes you wear on Halloween for a goof. Shut up, quit your complaining and Vote in Every election, Dumbasses.

    • D’win

      Wow, what a community builder you are! Maybe you should dress as a public intellectual….