A group of students at Ohio University called STARS (Students Teaching About Racism in Society) has started a poster campaign designed to shame people out of dressing up like racial or cultural stereotypes for Halloween. According to the organization’s official description, their mission is “To educate and facilitate discussion about racism and to promote racial harmony and to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings.” I imagine it’s hard for Muslim students to feel “safe” on their campuses when there are people running around dressed up like the guys who LOL-hi-jacked those planes on 9/11, so the posters seem to be fairly in line with their mission.
I’m trying to come up with some contrarian stance as to why the people who made these posters are just being overly sensitive, but I can’t. The truth is, this is the sort of thing that goes unremarked a whole lot of the time (especially in majority white spaces where minorities are afraid to speak up), and shamefully enough, I’ve let it go unremarked myself at times because I wasn’t in the mood to get into it with some drunk asshole at a party. But that doesn’t mean it’s defensible. After marginalizing and oppressing these cultures for so long, it seems like adding insult to injury to then turn them into huge, goofy caricatures on Halloween. Overt discrimination isn’t the only kind of racism that exists in this country. In fact, it’s increasingly this other, more insidious kind that we have to worry about. And no, having a token member of that race who is “cool with it” doesn’t make it okay. Try walking around a majority Asian neighborhood dressed like a slutty geisha or, I don’t know, a majority black neighborhood in blackface. What’s that? You wouldn’t? Why not? Oh yes, because you secretly know better than that. And that’s what these posters are trying to remind you.
Cue blustery white people defending their right to dress up as racist caricatures in 3…2…1!