THE BLOG

When Black People Dress Up As White People For Halloween

10/29/2013 10:55 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
Pacific Coast News

There are a lot of things white people do that black people don't do. We don't raise our voices at our mamas, we don't wear shorts when it's 30 degrees outside, and we don't share our plates and utensils with our pets.

But one really important thing black people don't do that a lot of white people seem to think is necessary: we don't paint our faces white when we dress up as a white person for Halloween.

I'll be honest, the majority of my Halloween costumes have been black folks. There are so many good black people to dress up as. Between entertainers, ball players and brilliant television characters, black people have provided a smorgasbord of Halloween options. Which is why I understand the desire so many white people have to dress up as a black person each year. What I don't understand is the need to paint one's face black just to make sure your friends know you're dressing up as a black person.

There are so many other things you can do to ensure people know who you are. Wigs, clothing-- you know all those other things that characterize a person outside of the color of his or her skin. When I was a little girl, I dressed up as The Little Mermaid. All my mother did was put a red wig on my head. Between that and the fishtail skirt, people knew who I was.

Blackface costumes are like roaches. You kill one-- or blow it up into a viral story that starts tons of conversation and pisses a lot of people off-- and they come back twice as strong the next time around.

Every year, someone dons a controversial costume. And every year people spend several weeks wagging their fingers and shaking their heads and scolding said awful person for doing such an awful thing. And every year, that awful person-- particularly when they're someone famous like sweet, little Julianne Hough-- apologizes for being awful and unaware that his or her actions would be even slightly offensive to anyone, especially his or her black friends (because said person always has several friends of color with whom he or she immediately becomes even better friends with after all of the hullabaloo and accusations of racism).

But here's a very important message: Ignorance is not an excuse. It's especially not an excuse in a world where it's possible to know every verse on the Yeezus album 20 minutes after it's leaked online, or in a world where people who haven't read the viral story of the day are immediately considered stupid, uncool individuals who must spend their days living under a rock.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you have to fully understand the history of blackface-- and I promise, I'll spare you a long explanation because I know you won't read it anyway. I'm not asking you to be an Africana studies major in college, or watch documentaries on minstrel shows. I'm asking you to do what you do every day, read the damn news, share stories on social, talk about things you found interesting or crazy or weird. You can't tell me you didn't read last year's story about blackface and you didn't see your black friend's post on Facebook last year (it probably said something like "really?" or "ugh" or "not again") when it happened...LAST YEAR.

The issue with hiding behind the ignorance safety net (i.e. "I didn't know it was offensive," or "I thought it was funny," or "I wasn't trying to be racist.") is you take the responsibility off of yourself and put it on everyone else. It becomes everyone else's (read: black people's) responsibility to teach you why blackface is offensive-- which is the ultimate problem with privilege. It somehow becomes the oppressed person's responsibility to educate the offender turning the victimizer into the victim, but we won't even go there.

So do yourselves a favor, white folks. Stop wearing blackface. Speak up when your friends tell you about their "awesome Halloween costume" (for example: "Jimmy, I don't think you need to paint your face black to be Lebron James. I think a Miami Heat jersey that says "James" on the back may suffice.")

Educate yourselves. If you google "history of blackface" and read a little, then you get a bigger gold star. But the fact of the matter is, no one in modern society is unaware of the fact that blackface quite frankly pisses people off. It's on Twitter, and Facebook and Gawker and Buzzfeed, and everybody knows that everyone reads Buzzfeed. So you have no excuse, white folks. No excuse at all.