I find this humor offensive. However, I must confess: Hi, my name is Catherine, and I’m culturally insensitive. In 2006, I dressed my daughter up as a Geisha girl for Halloween. That summer a friend traveled to the Far East (Thailand, I think) and brought my daughter an adorable fuchsia dress as a memento from her trip. Come Halloween, I ordered a paper umbrella and a large black wig, complete with a metal rod and attached red tassel, which played up my daughter’s already full, poufy hair. I put some white powder on her face, applied black liner, and painted her lips red. Put together, her costume looked just like the ones pictured in the catalogs we’d received in the mail and I patted myself on the back for saving money and not purchasing a full costume. Not once did I think her costume was offensive.
From my vantage point, society has drifted into the overly-politically-correct territory. On Monday, every mainstream media and gossip site ran a story about Julianne Hough’s Halloween costume and supposed “blackface.” Here’s a link if you’ve been living under a rock: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/orange-new-black-star-offended-julianne-hough-blackface-article-1.1500580. According to society, I should be ashamed to admit that her costume didn’t offend me. Hough wasn’t poking fun of African features or making a caricature of the actress she was emulating. She applied a little bronzer to closer resemble the character. What if she was barefaced with corn rows in her hair? Would that be offensive, too?
I’m certain that society would also condemn me for being a 35-year-old, college-educated, white woman who knows next to nothing about blackface and the minstrel era. When I first heard the term “minstrel” I thought it was spelled the same way as “menstrual” naturally confusing it with the five to seven day period that happens once a month. Somehow I managed to make it to my mid-thirties without knowing the history of blackface. I vaguely remember the brouhaha when Billy Crystal did it. My point is that cultural sensitivity is learned and one’s proximity to discrimination affects the degree to which those lessons are taught. True, there are some universal things that everyone should know, like the five senses, the freezing point of water, the four seasons, the radius of a circle, and the seven continents, just to name a few. I ask you: should blackface be included in that list?
To be truly insensitive, like the accusations hurled at Hough, requires having the intent to stereotype, degrade, or commit any of the -isms (race, cultural, etc.) with added disregard towards a certain group. When I dressed my daughter as a Geisha girl, I never intended to poke fun of Japanese culture. Truthfully, I don’t know much about Geisha girls beyond the superficial. As America becomes more diverse and history becomes diluted with each generation, are we still going to hold everyone to the objective standards of the past, a social construction if you will, that changes over time? So while blackface was meant to denigrate blacks in the 1800s minstrel era, the coloring of one’s skin today doesn’t have the same meaning. Otherwise, if we’re going to attack Hough then we should also attack Tan Mom and anyone else trying to have a skin tone that’s not biologically their own.
Want to check if your costume is offensive? Here’s a flow chart: http://www.upworthy.com/how-to-tell-if-your-halloween-costume-is-a-crime-against-common-sense-and-decency-for-the-reals?c=ufb1