I must have missed the memo that Halloween was meant to be even more inappropriate than the common day “sexy M&M” this year. Unfortunately, a lot of people seemed to mix spooky and scary with completely inappropriate, and – yes, racist.
Julianne Hough made headlines recently as she dressed as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren from Orange Is The New Black – a character that is so lively and defined that there’s so much beyond her skin color. Yet Julianne used makeup to darken her skin for a better portrayal. Thankfully, she realized the error of her ways, and published an apology shortly after the outrage began.
While Julianne’s poor decision was based on adoration of an amazing actress and character, others decided to don blackface in truly horrific ways. For some reason, a popular costume this year turned out to be Trayvon Martin.
Let’s pause here for a second. Just imagine that you’re Trayvon’s Mom, still mourning the tragic and early loss of her son. Imagine trying to recover from the insane media coverage and attention from that one terrible night where a Neighborhood Watch guard got a bit too gun-happy. Then imagine people making a mockery of it – and thinking their idea of a blood-soaked hoodie, blackface, and perhaps a bag of Skittles is not only innovative, but funny.
Before I continue, let me talk about the history of blackface. Blackface was an important performance tradition in the American theater for roughly 100 years beginning around 1830 – and typically the white actors who donned blackface portrayed characters that were stereotyped. Our world has (thankfully) dropped the practice tremendously. After all, often times actors had to be in blackface because they didn’t have black talent to take the role – and the talented black community didn’t even have the ability to do so. It was a practice that’s a reminder of rough times. As you know, we’ve come a long way since the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Personally, when it’s used today, it makes me feel like people can only see the color of someone’s skin instead of who they really are.
The same could be said in reverse. In 2004, Shawn and Marlon Wayans decided to put on whiteface for buddy cop comedy White Chicks, and the movie received extremely poor reviews from numerous critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an aggregate rating of only 15% based on 121 reviews, and Richard Roeper put the film at #1 on his 2004 list of the year’s worst films, amongst claims of unconvincing prosthetics and racism. White people in blackface isn’t funny or amusing, and black people in white makeup isn’t funny either. It’s cheap, insulting, and gives many the feeling that we’re making backwards progress with seeing people as people.
Going back to Trayvon for a moment: I’m sure all of you have unfortunately lost someone you love in your life. Chances are, it didn’t make national news. I’m sure that if someone dressed up like your deceased loved one at a party, it wouldn’t be funny. It’d probably be downright painful. And if you plaster your “creative” ideas all over social media sites, you risk offending a group much larger than the people who decided to attend your gathering. Here’s the picture that has everyone in an uproar.
According to the Smoking Gun, the men in the Martin and Zimmerman costumes are residents of Florida, where the Zimmerman case took place. Both are in their early to mid 20’s. The female in the photo, identified as Caitlin “Kt” Cimeno, was the one who proudly posted it on Facebook with the caption of “Happy Halloween from Zimmerman & trayvon”. Rumor has it that the outrage costed her a job. The Trayvon impersonator, William Filene, was arrested in June for felony auto theft, so he’s probably a really great guy.
The fact that Filene’s rap sheet became public, and Cimeno is facing extreme scrutiny that’ll obviously have a huge impact on her future, is because they were extremely offensive.
So, let this be a warning to you: Choose your Halloween costume wisely, and realize that making a mockery of a race, tragedy, disease, or all of the above won’t make you edgy – it’ll probably just end up making you lose friends, as well as a ton of respect.