So, white people, I’d like you to know that you do not look good in the identities of PoC.
No, really. It’s not a good look. You look like a racist asshole, and you need to stop.
And I mean that with as much respect as I can hide with my ire. It’s not cool. Stop it. Go back to coming to parties in uniforms as mad scientists or The Joker. That’s fine. Do that. Go as Eminem, even. Whatever.
But, please, dear white people, do not go to your Halloween parties as Mahatma Gandhi.
I don’t care if you’re Colton Haynes (no, really, I don’t care; I don’t watch Teen Wolf, and I probably won’t start, so how good or terrible it may be has no impact on my ability to say that tasteless and racist is tasteless and racist). I don’t care if you’re a fan of his - you can keep on keepin’ on, but wrong is wrong.
Brownface is brownface. It’s simple. It is the act of fetishizing someone else’s culture for a few laughs at a party. Perhaps I need to remind you from whence the inequality and injustice that Gandhi stood against came from.
In fact, a rule of thumb overall should be that if you don’t know anything about the individual or culture you’re prepared to fetishize in costume, you shouldn’t even be thinking of wearing it.
Now, I probably wouldn’t have seen this if someone didn’t show it to me. My friend Mahalia messaged me a while ago and said this:
I want your opinion on something. So an actor from Teen Wolf dressed up as Ghandi for Halloween. However, he painted himself brown. He did this last Halloween when he dressed up as Kanye West. Many PoCs have been insulted by it and have voiced their concerns about it because blackface/brownface has a racist history. Yet many people in the TW fandom are putting down these people by saying that they’re stupid or overly-sensitive for thinking that his Halloween costume is casual racism. The excuses are: 1) It’s just a Halloween costume. 2) If he painted his face white, is that racism. No? Ok, reverse racism! 3) He dressed up as an important figure. What’s the big deal? 4) I’m a PoC and I don’t find this offensive.
What is your take on this? I’d really like to know. Even if you don’t find his brown/blackface offensive, do you believe it covertly stems from racism? Do people have a right to be concerned?
I know beforehand that this will always be an issue around Halloween, and there’s no stopping it. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t say it’s wrong.
So let’s count the ways:
- Going to a party as a bedsheet ghost is ‘just a costume’. Going to a party as the Greendale Community College Human Being is ‘just a costume’. Hell, going as Hugh Hefner just means buying a red bathrobe. And any of these things would be cool on a budget. But this is brownface. Brownface has its roots in racist messages, and therefore is racist regardless of the intent of the user. (Also, I take that back. I think being the GCC Human Being is actually pretty fucking important to this conversation in a really meta way.)
- A white man in ‘whiteface’ is a white Crayola crayon. (This is also very subverting to the ‘race/culture as costume’ trope. I give points to anyone who does it. No, really.) But there’s a version of this argument that says that reverse racism would therefore be a PoC in ‘whiteface’. Here’s the thing - there is no such thing as ‘whiteface’ or as ‘reverse racism’. ‘Reverse racism’ is a silencing technique, not an argument - it’s what you say to shut up PoC when you’ve run out of ways to throw a tantrum about being wrong. In fact, take into consideration how many iconic ideas a PoC can exemplify in costume compared to the same amount of Causcasian characters. If there’s a black, East Indian, Chinese or Cherokee Superman, I haven’t read enough comic books. So leave Gandhi well alone, please.
- An important figure… hmm… I wonder how many historically relevant Caucasian men there are in the entirety of written history… perhaps there’s a really good reason why he singled out the father of Indian independence over every US president before Obama, or Civil War generals, or the Pilgrims, or the British, or even a sea of American philanthropists, fictional heroes, television, movie, and music stars… wait…
- Something being offensive does not mean you have to be offended. Someone not being offended doesn’t make something suddenly on the up-and-up. I’m not offended by the word ‘nigger’/’nigga’ in context, but that doesn’t mean racial slurs suddenly get a pass worldwide. Wrong is wrong. Blackface/brownface is wrong.
Something even more concerning is the level of support Haynes is getting from the TW fandom for what is still essentially a bad decision. These cases above are not Haynes’ arguments being debunked - it’s his fans’ arguments.
“Even if she feels like it was justified by the context and she had no bad intentions and yada yada yada, the more time she spends defending her right to use [the N word], the more it’s going to raise the question that always comes up when white people have this argument, which is ‘why do you care enough about this word to even bother having an argument about it?’”
As I said before, the easiest thing to do would be get another costume. No one would even care. But why is it that so many people feel so strongly about insisting that something that a lot of people find really hurtful should not be hurtful at all to the people who are hurt? If something is racist, and you are (or at least want to seem to be) not racist, why are you standing up for racism?
Is it because… you’re really racist?
Come on, son.
Put Gandhi’s skin right back where you fucking found it. No one’s gonna beef with you for being BedSheet Ghost just one year.
Also worth a read: Speak Faithfully’s post on cultural appropriation of Native American people and Halloween, Calling Out Socially Acceptable Racism.