Last night, I went to a Halloween party and had a brief discussion with someone who said she’d wanted to come to the party dressed as someone from another race. Specifically, she wanted to come dressed as a stereotype of someone from another race. While I understood that this person’s intention wasn’t malicious, my response was still “Uhhhhhh, that’s probably racist,” and then this person agreed with me, and then another person said that one of their costume ideas was to arrive in what was, essentially, blackface.
My response was “Uh, that’s really racist,” and then that person complained that “everybody has to be so politically correct these days.”
And then I checked Facebook, and no less than 4 of the white people I know were wearing Native American Indian costumes.
I know that some people hear the term “politically correct” and see it as a big wagging finger telling them about all the supposedly fun things they’re not allowed to do, but it would be worthwhile to remember that the word “correct” is in there, and that actually, it’s a very broad term that serves as a reminder of the ways in which you should probably not denigrate entire groups of people. And that even though it may not be your conscious intention to denigrate entire groups of people with your Halloween costumes (or comments, or assumptions), it doesn’t hurt to keep the implication in mind.
Political correctness doesn’t serve to stifle you, it serves to keep you knowledgeable and aware of history and the experience of the human race. You might think wearing blackface to a party or making up some bullshit “hiya-hey, hiya-ho” rain dance is hilarious, but what are you actually celebrating? And would you still be celebrating it if someone dredged up an iconic figure of your personal history, dressed it up in cheap fabric and inaccurate face paint, and paraded it around as a joke?
From “Wolf At Twilight” by Kent Nerburn, is an explanation on the topic of Native American mascots, which I think covers the subject of white people appropriating the costume of not only Native Americans, but also minstrelsy and other issues charged by what some people apparently consider to be the burden of political correctness:
“A white man and an elderly Native man became pretty good friends, so the white guy decided to ask him: “What do you think about Indian mascots?”
The Native elder responded, “Here’s what you’ve got to understand. When you look at black people, you see ghosts of all the slavery and the rapes and the hangings and the chains. When you look at Jews, you see ghosts of all those bodies piled up in death camps. And those ghosts keep you trying to do the right thing.
“But when you look at us you don’t see the ghosts of the little babies with their heads smashed in by rifle butts at the Big Hole, or the old folks dying by the side of the trail on the way to Oklahoma while their families cried and tried to make them comfortable, or the dead mothers at Wounded Knee or the little kids at Sand Creek who were shot for target practice. You don’t see any ghosts at all.
“Instead you see casinos and drunks and junk cars and shacks. Well, we see those ghosts. And they make our hearts sad and they hurt our little children. And when we try to say something, you tell us, ‘Get over it. This is America. Look at the American dream.’ But as long as you’re calling us Redskins and doing tomahawk chops, we can’t look at the American dream, because those things remind us that we are not real human beings to you. And when people aren’t humans, you can turn them into slaves or kill six million of them or shoot them down with Hotchkiss guns and throw them into mass graves at Wounded Knee.
“No, we’re not looking at the American dream. And why should we? We still haven’t woken up from the American nightmare.”
Wow. That was harsh. Hard to hear, but true.