Monday, November 09, 2009

Hallowe'en Costumes, Partying, and Oppression

The piece that I am linking to in this post was produced in the context of queer spaces in Vancouver and talks about specific things that have happened there. I'm posting it because some folks in Sudbury are circulating it in response to a recent instance in a queer space here of a white person coming to a Hallowe'en party dressed in Blackface and then a bunch of other white people being silent about it and/or actively defending it after the fact. I am certainly at a remove from where this took place and from where the primary post-event processing has been happening. I also am not sure there are really too many local folks who read this blog, other than friends. Nonetheless, I think it is pretty broadly relevant across North America wherever dress-up, costumes, or theme parties are to be found.

A few highlites:

What’s important to remember in all this is that we are not criticizing people, we are criticizing the behaviour. We realize that in all likelihood, the [Vancouver party] organizers and the costume-wearers did not intend to offend or exclude. They probably just didn’t think about the implications of their themes or costumes, and how that might affect people. It seems that most of the time, people don’t mean to offend when they say something inadvertently racist or sexist or homophobic. But that’s the thing: when you come from a place of privilege (i.e. being a white person, being heterosexual, being a man), you often don’t think about how your actions might be offensive to others (i.e. people of colour, queers, women), because you’ve never had to think about that. That is your privilege! But this is why intention is not the issue. The issue is that the behaviour was offensive, and people are (understandably) angry, frustrated, and feel marginalized and excluded.


One of the most fun things about costume parties is that people can dress up like something different from their everyday life or identity. But more often than not, this “difference” is demonstrated through gender, culture, race, class etc. Especially during Halloween, we see what people around us consider to be “different,” “funny,” “abnormal” or “scary” and this reminds us what is considered to be “normal.” Just stop and think… In your life, how many guys do you know who have dressed up as girls, how many people from one racial background dressed up as members of another, how many people from middle or upper class backgrounds dressed up as “trailer trash” or “hobos”? From hyper-sexualized costumes to “cross-dressing” to costumes of cultural & racial stereotypes (geishas, gypsies, Native head dresses, etc.), we can see what is considered “different” and thus we can see what is considered acceptable, normal & idealized in our society. For people of colour, trans and genderqueer folk, disAbled folk, folk from poor/working class backgrounds who are already made to feel “different” and excluded from today’s society, seeing people wearing a costume that simplifies or mocks their identity will further exclude them and make them feel even more “different” or “abnormal.” And that’s not something that we think the queer community should support.

Read the whole thing!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I think it's useful. My one concern, however, has to do with the language of "offensive." At least in my experience, this kind of language tends to focus on individual choices and behaviors rather than on how our choices and behaviors are related to power. In other words, I don't think the main problem with Blackface is that it "offends" people, although the way that it's all about white people's racist fantasies is deeply disturbing. I think the main problem is that it is one among many everyday practices that helps sustain white supremacy - a system in which white people consistently benefit at the expense of Black people and other people of color.