In light of recent missteps by sort-of celebs and some genuine non-celebs, now seems like a great time for a public service announcement about using blackface — or any other kind of not-your-natural-skin-colorface, really — to punctuate this year's perfect costume. After all, you want to be the guy whose awesome costume everyone is talking for the next week, not the insensitive asshat who's doling out apologies first come first serve the next day, right? Right. Subtle distinction.
"But Halloween is only days away," you say? Fret not, good sir or madam! Chances are your costume is perfectly within the bounds of both racial sensitivity and good taste! Win! However, just in the off-chance you aren't sure whether or not posting pics of your kickass Li'l Wayne impersonation will make you internet famous in the bad way, here are a few helpful tips on how to stay off your future employers' radar.*
For brevity and because we all have last-minute costumes to cobble together from whatever's in the kitchen drawer, I'll just touch on the big three.
Rule #1 - DON'T dress up as "random race / ethnicity guy."
Dressing up as "Mexican Dude" or "Hot Chick In a Burqa" is a no-no. Why? Well for one, "Random Person" is not a costume. It's not even close. Too often it's just an amalgamation of tired tropes and offensive stereotypes, because if you didn't choose a specific icon to dress as, that's your template. Just think back to every news story you read this year about such-and-such frat holding the "Compton Cookout" or the "Asia Prime" party. The reason those get-ups were so offensive is because stereotypes were their templates. (Also, blackface.)
But more importantly, dressing up as a particular race or appropriating a specific aspect of someone else's culture is exactly the same thing as mocking that culture. Now, before you go getting defensive, consider that there really are only two reasons ever to dress as a culture you don't consider yourself a native of — for respect or for ridicule. You may think choosing Halloween as your first outward expression of admiration for Native American headdresses is honoring the culture, but trust me — it's the other one.
"Well, shit on a stick — You're not even at number two, and my costume is already ruined."
Fret. Not. You can still make a kickass costume and strike a chord for cultural awareness everywhere. Just remember:
Rule #2 - Pick an iconic character to dress as.
What do I mean by iconic? This is iconic. Also, this. Of course, everyone can't pull off a moonwalk or simultaneously crack a whip and a whitty one-liner, and we need occasional Army Men or Brawny Paper Towel dude to break up the monotony. Because the Internet.
And speaking of the Internet — Use it! Were you planning to go as a sexy Japanese school girl? Why not rather go as Mako from Pacific Rim or Faith from Mirror's Edge? Ideas like these say "I know more about racial sensitivity than the TV box tells me."
Corollary to Rule #1
As a bylaw, please note that generic monsters or characters from make-believe races only are actually okay...
"Wait a second, wait a second — You just told me not to go as some stereotype of a black guy, and now you're telling me to go as a troped-out version of a Rivendale elf? What the what!"
You're right. I did say that. And you should follow rule #1 to the letter. You'll note this bylaw only applies to creatures or races that don't really exist. Elves and fairies don't exist. Vampires don't exist. Purple people-eaters don't exist. You see, fake races are iconic because of their tropes. And because things like werewolves and Ferengi don't exist, you don't have to worry about stereotyping them.
Let's recap: Random Asian Guy, bad. Random Jedi with light-stick...sword...thing..., good. (I don't know Star Wars.)
Alright, final rule. And please pay attention to this one, as there'll be a test later.
Rule #3 - FINAL RULE - Please, for the love of God, DO NOT use blackface.
Just don't do it. This includes all the other racial variations as well. It's never necessary to artificially adjust your skin color or features to replicate a specific character's race. If it is necessary, well then, you have a terrible costume and should just sit out Halloween this year.
"But my Antoine Dodson costume isn't complete without it!" you argue. And to that I say, —Wait, people are still dressing up as the 'Hide yo' kids' guy...? — Ahem, I say, listen.
I know you want to do blackface. I know you do. Just like you want to say the N word in more than a whisper when other people are around, and you think it's unfair that black people sometimes say it, and it's a double standard, because you didn't mean it that way, and you were taken out of context, and you were just quoting someone, and what about the Wayans and White Chicks, and... Hang on a second, weren't we talking about blackface?
In all seriousness, though, let's have a heart-to-heart.
Blackface is offensive. I know you feel like it shouldn't be, but it is. I know you think people should get over it. But they can't. Not like this anyways. How many times have you changed someone's diametrically opposed opinion by throwing that offense back in his or her face? You don't need to count — the answer is never.
We're all adults here, right? (Or at least for the purpose of this simulated heart-to-heart, let's pretend we are.) None of us lives in a vacuum. Slavery happened. Minstrelsy happened. Racism happens. You don't make the rules. I don't make the rules. And I know you feel like you're just bucking the system and throwing a big F U to The Man and Mr. Feather, but wearing blackface is not doing that. Wearing blackface is telling the people of color in your life and beyond that you don't care about their sensibilities or their personal boundaries, because Li'l Wayne is black, dammit. And I need to make sure everyone knows I don't mean the other non-black Li'l Wayne. (<—This is sarcasm.)
But ask yourself, why is it so important that you color your face or color your skin? For a costume? For laughs? And is that reason more important than allowing those strangers and loved ones to feel the dignity of a humanity their ancestors and relatives and they themselves have been so deprived throughout history?
Just take a moment to truly think about it.
If all else fails, a.k.a. Break in case of emergency...
If you really, truly, honestly can't tell if you're Halloween costume idea is racially offensive, as a last resort the good folks at Complex have crafted the below handy dandy chart for just such an occasion:
*As a disclaimer, while following these rules will help ensure you don't end up as a trending topic on Twitter, there's obviously no guarantee. And though not racially offensive, dressing up as Dick in a Box also probably won't win you any long-term employment prospects.