Blackface is Never Okay: Halloween 2013 Edition

By Amy Wagner on October 28, 2013
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Even though we’re still three days away from Halloween, racist costumes, including those with blackface, are already surfacing. The most shocking example is clearly embodied in the photo accompanying this article of two friends dressed up as George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Stopping at portraying the two people involved in this controversial crime through clothing would have been bad enough, but William Filene, the Caucasian man portraying Martin, completed his costume with blackface and a…smile? An accompanying status posted by Greg Cimeno, who portrayed Zimmerman, proclaimed that he was “currently making the best Halloween costume of the year!” We wouldn’t want to leave that exclamation point out, would we? Not only is it the best (read: most racist and insensitive) Halloween costume, the creators are clearly very excited about their handiwork. I wonder if this excitement has endured now that this unfortunate costume has made national headlines. Apparently it has, as after the photos went viral, Cimeno presented himself on Facebook as “rather pleased with the notoriety his costume was bringing him—including the death threats,” taking the opportunity to “[rail] against intolerant liberals and political correctness.” (I think now would be an excellent time to explain to Cimeno what exactly “tolerance” means.)

Photo courtesy of newsone.com

In a way, I’m glad for the sudden notoriety of blackface costumes, also including Julianne Hough and her blackface portrayal of an ‘Orange is the New Black’ character. It’s definitely not because these costumes are clever or funny or “the best,” as Cimeno himself posited; blackface costumes are none of these things. On the contrary, I’m glad it is sparking national conversation because I believe that those who don’t know why blackface is never okay need to learn, starting now. Costumes like this shouldn’t be happening, but as long as they are, they can definitely serve as a starting point for a larger conversation that clearly still needs to take place.

Blackface is racist. It shows that the wearer is happy to remain naively and blissfully unaware of their white privilege. (For a thorough and concise explanation of white privilege, please feel free to read this piece by Peggy McIntosh.) Not only are people who don blackface naive, but they are also choosing to shamelessly don the skin color of a race whose unimaginable struggles they – or their ancestors – will never be able to grasp. And just as easily as this face paint can be applied, it can be painlessly and easily washed away, all without the history that comes with enduring over 300 years of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and racism that continues to this day. Additionally, blackface hearkens back to 19th century minstrel performances, in which baseless stereotypes about people of color were created and propagated for gleeful White audiences who soon came to wholeheartedly believe that all black people were lazy, dishonest, and unintelligent. So when you wear blackface, you aren’t being funny or smart. In addition to revealing your blatant racism, you’re also showing complete disregard for history and social justice, and contrary to Cimeno’s recent Facebook statements, one doesn’t have to be an “intolerant liberal” or “politically correct” to see that.

I want to end this article with a disclaimer. I’m not an expert on race, race relations, or the like. I simply consider myself an individual who is acutely aware of the need for diversity, inclusive excellence, and social justice in our society, and as such, I wish to provide my perspective on such an important issue. 

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Amy is a third-year student at the University of Denver majoring in Communication Studies, with concentrations in organizational and intercultural communication, as well as minoring in business and international studies. She is a Colorado native, avid reader, coffee drinker, lover of all things active, and now, thanks to Uloop, a writer.

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