[Photoset: Three images of people of color in casual dress, holding up photos of various appropriative, racist Halloween costumes (blackface; stereotypical “Indians” with streaks of war paint, construction paper headdresses, a sign that says “ME WANTUM PIECE…..NOT WAR”; someone in a stereotypical “Mexican” costume with a sombrero and moustache riding a donkey), with serious, unhappy expressions. Text on each photo reads: “We’re a culture, not a costume. This is NOT who I am, and this is NOT OKAY.”]
I posted all five of the “we’re a culture, not a costume” posters earlier in the week, and I had to delete them because the reblogs made me so angry I couldn’t respond in a reasonable way anymore. It’s bothered me since then, but I try to walk the line between outrage and anger because a lot of people stop listening when I cross it and I don’t want to alienate anyone. I don’t want people to think I hate white people because my heritage is mostly white and I don’t hate any culture.
But it is really exhausting and upsetting trying to get through to a person who’ll rant for six paragraphs about someone wearing a band t-shirt when they don’t listen to the band, but then absolve themselves of any wrongdoing in donning a bastardized representation of a culture, your culture, by telling you that you’re “too sensitive” because they’re “not doing it to be offensive” so you should “get over it and stop whining.” It’s really hard not to take that personally and be infuriated by that attitude.
The bottom line is that when a white person dresses up as a person from a subjugated culture, they are being racist—even if it’s just Halloween, even if they aren’t trying to be offensive, even if they have black friends, even if their mother’s uncle’s cousin’s grandpa was 1/128th Cherokee, even if they’re German and not offended by Lederhosen costumes. And telling the people they’re dressing up as how to feel about it or to “get over it” is also being racist.
Racism is not individual acts of meanness. That’s what we call prejudice. Racism is a system of racial dominance fueled by privilege. It is prejudice + power, and it’s what most colonized systems in the world were founded on: white supremacy. And, when a white person dresses up as a fake Native or wears blackface, they’re asserting their power over people. They’re being oppressive by promoting stereotypes that erase a culture’s place and issues in modern history and by telling them how they should feel about being on the losing end of a system that works to a white person’s advantage. And it doesn’t make a difference if that’s not the intention because racism is about impact, and that’s absolutely the impact those actions have.
I know I’ll get reblogs on this that upset me because there’s always someone who’ll say “I can do what I want.” And that’s true. But having the right to do something and it being the right thing to do are not the same thing. And, honestly, it should bother a person who isn’t prejudiced to actively contribute to a system of oppression built on erasing people through federal policy and cultural attitudes. It really should.