Cloistered in my blogger hovel, surrounded by dusty books, cobwebs, and my WiFi router -- I don't often get out. And I certainly don't celebrate the Halloween, so my decision to stir this boiling cauldron may not be appropriate -- but it is not as inappropriate as your white friend Todd's costume.
You see, if Todd goes out on October 31st wearing a poncho and colorful sombrero (and your friend Todd is not from Central America) then your friend Todd is a racist. Or at least acting racist. Now, Todd may not be a bad guy, he just might not know. And I understand that, I haven't always known either -- and that's why I'm going to do my best to explain it to him, despite my own obvious whiteness.
We white folk are particularly insensitive because we don't have a lot to be sensitive about. All of culture bends to our social norm. There is no single word (other than "racist" perhaps) that you can call a white man and offend him. I've been reflecting on this issue, and I think I've found an appropriate analogy.
If I dressed up as Todd's Mom on Chemotherapy, Todd would probably be offended. This is because it would touch directly on Todd's life and experiences -- especially if Todd had watched his mother suffer through cancer. And if I did this, and Todd tried to drown me in a punch bowl, I would deserve it. This, I think, underscores the restraint demonstrated by our minority countrymen. Because of our aforementioned lack of oppression, we are often blinded to how our behavior impacts others.
We do not have a long and terrible history associated with the color of our skin or the suppression of our culture, and while I can never understand what it's like to be Black in America or Latino in America, I do know what it's like to have a parent with cancer, and I know if someone lampooned that I would be furious.
Pain, in whatever form it takes, is still pain. We just don't share that particular kind of pain.
It's like this: if Todd puts on blackface and dangles a big clock from his neck (in an ill conceived attempt at masquerading as Flavor Flav) Todd has appropriated a thing he cannot understand the weight of. Todd has never lived having a real black face, and he does not know how having a real black face may have viciously and negatively impacted his Black friend's lives. Not to say, of course, that black faces aren't beautiful -- only that they have been the subject of a great deal of racially induced pain.
You may read that last paragraph, and think I am excusing Todd. I am not. Ignorance of the suffering of others does not remove Todd's guilt. Why? Because minorities in the U.S. have been telling us, literally for decades, that this shit is offensive. Why don't we listen to them? Why don't we take their even handed attempts at education at face value? Because we have no similar experiences, I believe.
Another analogy: 9/11 happened to all of us, and it stands out starkly for those of a particular age (likely Todd's age). If I went to a Halloween party dressed as a pilot with a box cutter sticking out of my forehead and cheerfully told you that I'm pretending to be the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, you would probably be pissed. Or at least extremely creeped out.
And now here's the rub, how much worse would that seem if I were a Muslim (which I am) or a Saudi (which I am not)? That would be pretty damn distasteful. Just as distasteful, I think at least, as Todd dressing up as a runaway slave. Not to say, of course, that Muslims or Saudi's ought to all be held responsible for 9/11, but to demonstrate the terrible irony of dressing like a racist jackass on Halloween: when Todd wears a racist costume, he perpetuates two caustic ideas, one false, one true.
First, he encourages whatever absurd stereotype is the theme of his attire, and second, he shows the world that white people are deaf to the suffering of others. And when Todd does this it gives cause to not-white-folks to righteously employ that word we hate so much: racist.
It's a no win situation. And that's not good, Todd, please stop.