It’s 2015. So why on Earth are students dressing in blackface like Whites did in the 1800s? I’ll tell you why. For some reason my generation thinks that if wearing blackface is part of a costume it’s fine. They’re just playing dress up. It’s cool right? Wrong. Perhaps I should rewind and fill you in on the origins of my frustration.
This past Tuesday, October 6, the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority at UCLA threw a theme party called “Kanye Western”. Attendees of the party were to dress in costumes resembling African-American rapper Kanye West and his bodacious family the Kardashians. To portray these celebrities, many members of the two Greek organizations sagged their pants, stuffed their butts to appear enlarged, and smeared their faces with what looks to be dirt in order to look Black. These are all stereotypes of the Black community that are considered offensive and unacceptable, costume or not. The blackface is especially offensive given the history of White performers using it to play simple-minded Black characters during the 19th century up until the 1960s.
UCLA has a painful history of racism if we remember the 1969 shootings of students Bunche Carter and John Huggins on campus. “Sometimes I appreciate these things for all the students that doubt that we live in these times,” an anonymous UCLA staff member said in regard to the party (Castle). As expected, when African-American students at UCLA found out about the party they were outraged. Current Black students organized protests on campus and a sit-in at their vice chancellor’s office demanding repercussions for these acts of racism. UCLA’s vice chancellor, Jerry Kang, told a crowd of protestors,”It’s one thing to suggest you are actually focusing on one celebrity who is African American, it’s another thing to take it as a license to perform every attribute, every stereotype, every grotesque minstrelsy that you see” (Rocha).
It’s ironic that this incident would occur with Halloween right around the corner. Cultural costumes have been worn on this holiday for as long as anyone can remember. Recently, more people are starting to notice that this is more offensive than they thought. The phrase “my culture is not a costume” has been trending everywhere thanks to the Students Teaching About Racism Society at Ohio University who started it. President of the club, Sarah Williams, said, “During Halloween, we see offensive costumes. We don’t like it, we don’t appreciate it. We wanted to do a campaign about it saying, ‘Hey, think about this. It’s offensive'” (Grinberg).
When I used to dress up for Halloween, I never realized wearing an article of clothing from a culture that is not my own could offend someone of that ethnicity. In the 7th grade I was a “Greek goddess” for Halloween. Then in high school I realized it made me uncomfortable when classmates called themselves “dressing Black”.
Blackface isn’t necessary to be an African-American celebrity, just like a sombrero and mustache aren’t necessary to be a Mexican. These are stereotypes that are being sold to us by the costume industry. My request to all my readers is that you research the image you are trying to portray when dressing up this Halloween. If it draws off of any part of a culture that is not yours, stay away from it. Racism isn’t cute.
Castle, Cerise. “UCLA Students at ‘Kanye Western’ Frat Party Under Fire for Alleged Blackface.” The Daily Beast. N.p., 8 Oct. 2015. Web. 9 Oct. 2015.
Grinberg, Emanuella. “‘We’re a Culture, Not a Costume’ This Halloween – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 26 Oct. 2011. Web. 09 Oct. 2015.
Rocha, Veronica. “Kanye West-themed Frat Party at UCLA Sparks Protests, Claims of Racism.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 9 Oct. 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2015.