This is the time of year when I remember with fondness my early vision for this column, which launched some two and a half years ago. I actually believed, I’m embarrassed to say, that I’d mostly spend my time on things like corporate surveys, new research, inspiring profiles, and the cultural wrecking ball that is Halloween.
I miss those days.
That said, today is Halloween, that magical day when people who do diversity work wait patiently for the carnage. For people who love it, it’s a time to be creative, exchanging a corporate mask for a more expressive one. (My friends at 2U, I’m looking at you.) But typically… hell, I’m just going to quote myself from 2016:
Every year, it’s a thing. Imagine some people showing up to work dressed in orange prison jumpsuits with the words “illegal alien” scrawled across the front—a popular choice in the past—who are then theatrically bricked into their cubicles by people wearing Donald Trump masks. Points for topicality, but you’re still going to HR. Please don’t paint your face black, brown, yellow or “red.” It’s always racist. No religious garb. No suicide bomber shtick. Skip the Black Lives Matter jokes. And yet, it will happen, and I’ll be linking to the inevitable aftermath stories next week.
By 2017, I continued my practice of highlighting the hopeless and clueless: The Alabama teacher who blackened his face and dressed up as Kanye West. (Do we need the MAGA update? No.) The Staples employee in Pleasant Hill, CA who greeted shoppers in blackface, then claimed to be “a sharpie.” The man who walked into two Omaha, Neb. area malls dressed as a “mass shooter.” The “Anne Frank costume for girls” was whisked from the shelves after a backlash.
I just know it’s going to be worse this year. 2018, we’re ready for you.
Don’t be these people. Don’t don a sombrero and act like a jerk. Don’t wear an Indian headdress or be a sexy Pocahontas or insulting sports mascot. If you want to change the color of your skin, think smurf or gumball only. Unless you want to get fired like this Kansas City nurse.
But whatever you do, don’t fall for the “I didn’t know it was offensive,” line. Everybody knows.
“Nonblack people keep doing blackface because they find it enjoyable,” explains Anne Branigin in The Root. She cites research that shows clearly that people understand blackface and other racist jokes are wrong… but not really that wrong. “[W]hite people—mostly young white men, but not always—take pleasure in these jokes and know that they are offensive. Anti-black racism is a way for them to pass the time, to connect, to feel a cheap sense of rebellion even though there is nothing inherently rebellious about American racism—it has always been the status quo.”