You have the privilege

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Is your costume racist, offensive… or just sexy?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 28, 2015

I want to talk about cultural appropriation involving Halloween costumes. I know, I know, it’s a long-discussed topic between party-poopers and ignorant eye rollers.

Let me come at this subject from where I stand as a Halloween party participant. Each year I attend a party wearing a costume where I feel like it’s not me. Not because I’m uncomfortable or the fact that it’s supposed to be a costume, it’s just because I have a hard time convincing people that I’m a white guy. My previous costumes included: Donnie Darko (I looked like a hoodlum), Richie Tenenbaum (I looked like Kim Jong-il), and Steve Jobs (I looked like my uncle Stephen). One year, I said, “Fuck it,” and went as Glenn from The Walking Dead. I wore a baseball hat; that was my whole costume. Even I knew that was a lame costume. I looked like a tourist.

Yes, you might say, white is the default race and therefore white people cannot be offended if I should dress up as a cowboy. Then how come when a white guy dresses up as a Chinaman it’s a big deal?

Oh, he’s perpetuating a stereotype, you say.

He should check his privilege.

I hate that phrase, “check your privilege,” this line for governing white people. Thanks, I don’t need the protection, other white people. I have thick skin. Your little costume doesn’t offend me.

I’ll never know what it’s like to be a white person, but I do know what racism is. Racism is when you tell me I can’t drive because I’m Chinese. Racism is when a black guy gets arrested, only because the white police officer is scared. Racism is trying to get your foot in the door for a job and having less-experienced white people leapfrog you. A Halloween costume is not a big, oppressive statement. It’s a costume. It’s not the problem, and those that believe it is are those same people who try to be healthy by avoiding sugar in coffee, and then eating a cake as a reward. It’s a molehill problem, not a mountain.

Here’s a popular response: Would you dress up like a black guy around a group of black guys? I’m not saying that if Robert Downey Jr. did it, it’s okay. I’m saying no, I would not dress up like a black guy in Ferguson, St. Louis during the riot. But if I had a Bob Marley costume, I’d wear it on Halloween around friends who understand “One Love.”

There’s a time and place to learn about other people’s culture, and Halloween can be one of them. You can wear a straw-farming hat the same way I can wear overalls and call myself a farmer. The headwear is actually used for farming! It’s real. Wear it because you are interested and you want to learn more about the culture. And do. Mock it because it’s goofy. It is.

Is blackface offensive? Are buckteeth and squinty eyes offensive? Is dressing up as Caitlyn Jenner offensive? Is cross-dressing offensive? Are you able to even out the offence? You know, dress up as Hitler one year and Anne Frank the next? We are so god damn politically correct these days we don’t even know who we are or aren’t offending. We don’t need to walk on eggshells every Halloween. There are more heinous acts of hate in the world. Don’t make hate out of nothing.

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