This Halloween foregoes racy, opts for racism
Oh, America the Beautiful.
It’s located neatly within the center of the Northern Hemisphere, despite it seeming like we live in the polar regions.
Cheesy puns aside, the polarization of our nation is something we’ve all come to acknowledge. It originated in our politics and has perforated what seems like every other realm of our nation — even our most innocent, pagan-rooted holidays are no longer immune.
Recently, a pair of men decided to take the plunge into devising — and, thankfully, sharing online — one of the nation’s most offensive and repulsive Halloween costumes: George Zimmerman and a dead Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman’s costume was easily assembled and even moreso easily recognizable — a simple black-and-white “Neighborhood Watch” tee was all that it took.
Martin’s depiction, however, was completed through the usage of blackface — a term referring to when a white person paints their face to represent an African-American — and a bloodstained grey hoodie. Smiling, the pair posed as the would-be Zimmerman held up a finger-gun to the head of the would-be Martin.
The duo’s costume went viral within a few days of it being shared on Facebook. Captioned with “Happy Halloween from Zimmerman & Trayvon,” the photo was shared on international media outlets BuzzFeed, Gawker and The Huffington Post and subsequently removed from the individuals’ social media accounts.
It should go without saying that this costume was completely despicable. It sought to profit, socially speaking, from the premature loss of life of another human being. It made light of the death of a son, friend and fellow human being.
It’s the equivalent of two guys dressing up as an Auschwitz victim and Adolf Hitler, or two guys dressing up as a murder victim and the murderer. That standalone information would’ve been enough to make headlines.
Adding in the fact that a white man portrayed the late Martin, however, has completely shifted the nature of the buzz into a racially-charged outpouring onto America’s Anglo populace as a whole.
Take, for example, how country singer Julianne Hough spent her Halloween, and why she’s had to spend her week profusely apologizing to the media conglomerate.
As reported by the New York Daily News, Hough recently attended a Halloween bash in a prison jumpsuit and blackface.
Trust me — it’s not what it sounds like.
Hough was dressing up as Crazy Eyes, a popular character from the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black.” Crazy Eyes, despite what her name would suggest, is one of the series’ most beloved protagonists and an incredibly layered, emotional character.
She’s also portrayed by the African-American actress Uzo Aduba, though — and that’s where the racism came in.
Follwing outcry against the costume, Hough went on to tweet, “I am a huge fan of the show ‘Orange is the New Black,’ actress Uzo Aduba and the character she has created.
“It certainly was never my intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way … I truly apologize.”
Whether there was ever any need for an apology, though, has yet to be addressed by the national media.
Truthfully speaking, Hough’s costume wasn’t even true to the modern definition of blackface. Rather, Hough looked like she had undergone a deep spray tan, leaving her face and exposed shoulders evenly dyed a light mahogany.
Both Hough’s and the Zimmerman-Martin costumes have sparked a national dialogue around blackface, though, which has inevitably sparked dialogue on the implications of blackface and how portraying a race that isn’t your own is an implied insult to that race.
Sociology professor Russell Curtis found the offensive detail behind the costume to be rooted in the intent of those behind the masks.
“There’s a huge difference between the two — Hough’s came from a place of respect and admiration, while the (Trayvon Martin costume) dealt with the issue of the death of a human,” Curtis said.
“It was sadistic, insulting and making fun of a stereotype and death that simply isn’t humorous.”
The major difference between Hough’s costume and that of the Floridians, though, and why this is even an issue being written about, is that people were offended by Hough’s costume simply because of Hough’s acknowledgement of Aduba’s ethnicity.
Basically, Hough chose to include Aduba’s race into her portrayal of the character Aduba portrays. According to the reaction of our nation’s media, that is now to be regarded as a racist act: the simple acknowledgement of race in itself.
If a member of one racial group wants to imitate a member of another racial group, it shouldn’t be an act of bigotry to recognize the obvious dissimilarity in skin color.
What it really comes down to is the intent behind the act — when a person would choose to mock an ethnic group rather than factually portray an ethnic group.
It’s become something that implies discrimination, malicious intent or anything other than the basic, factual acknowledgement that people have different skin colors.
However, it might also be rooted in the epistemology of the act.
Department of Sociology Director of Graduate Studies and associate professor Amanda Baumle shared some insight as to why the act of blackface may be inherently insulting, even without regard to the user’s intent behind it.
“The sensitivity that surrounds individuals dressing in blackface likely arises from the origins of the practice, when white performers would paint their faces black in order to engage in a stereotyped and offensive performance of a black individual,” Baumle said.
“The intent of (the person in the costume) becomes less relevant when the image itself serves as a cultural reference to an experience of oppression and racism.”
It’s a tough thing to digest — on the one hand, it’s completely understandable that the blackface trend would bring about an emotional purge from members of the African-American community, seeing as it’ll always connotate something not all can relate to.
However, it isn’t necessarily right to live in a world where those like Hough aren’t able to portray a member of the African-American community that they admire. The fact that we have some nauseatingly racist ancestors shouldn’t still play a dominant role in the way we’re forced to view things.
Retaining the original meaning behind blackface will inevitably lead us to retain the original bigotry behind the act — the kind that divided our nation then and the same kind that keeps us divided now.
Senior staff columnist Cara Smith is a communications junior and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org