PSA: If You Aren’t Black, Please Don’t Be Kanye For Halloween

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images.
2016 is, arguably, the year of Kanye West. The rapper finally released his much-anticipated album The Life Of Pablo, made waves in the fashion world with two controversial shows, and ostensibly forever changed the wide-eyed ingénue image of Taylor Swift after proving that she lied on him. So considering that, every year, the most trendy Halloween costumes usually reflect the biggest players in pop culture, it's to be expected that many people will dress up as Ye this year. And I'm sure many of the costumes will be creative and hilarious. But if you are white, I have just one small thing I'd like to ask of you this Halloween season: Please excuse yourself from this narrative. The simplest way to explain the reasoning here is simply that Kanye West is Black. White Halloween costume wearers are not. To avoid possibly offending or misappropriating an entire culture or race, it's probably easiest to just skip the costume all together. But this goes much deeper than simply a person of one race dressing up as someone of another race. Whether you're covering your skin with paint, or bronzer, or makeup, altering your image in any way to make yourself "look" Black can bring about hundreds of years of pain and history for millions of people. Blackface began back in the 1830s, when white people would paint themselves and put on performances mocking Black folks. This was the beginning of a horrific period of minstrelsy where Black people were depicted by whites as lazy and unintelligent, solely capable of shucking, jiving, and singing mindless songs. These stereotypes were so damaging, that they've lasted hundreds of years.

Every year, new photos circulate on Twitter of white partygoers offensively dressed up in blackface.

"It was advertised as a peephole view of what Black people were really like," author Mel Watkins writes in an in-depth look at the history of blackface for PBS. "To that extent, it affected all of society because those people who didn't know Blacks...assumed that those characterizations, those depictions, those foolish characters on stage, were real Black people. And so it had an immense effect on the way mainstream society thought about Blacks." The damage of blackface even extended into the rise of Hollywood; instead of allowing actual Black talent into film, white actors would simply paint themselves to complete the roles. And even when Blacks did begin to make inroads in radio and television, like on Amos and Andy in 1930, those harmful minstrel stereotypes lingered — so much so that there were protests over the Black exploitation. It's surprising, that explaining this painful history is even still necessary in 2016. Especially when in recent years, it seems like every Halloween there are headlines criticizing celebrities like Julianne Hough, who wore blackface to dress up as Crazy Eyes from Orange Is The New Black in 2013. Celebrities aside, every year new photos circulate on Twitter of white partygoers offensively dressed up in blackface. The worst part? Whenever the people in these situations find themselves coming under fire for their distastefulness, the response is generally "We didn't know!" Or "We didn't mean to offend anyone!" I always roll my eyes. How is it possible that in the age of the internet, people can say they just don't know? I, personally, am Black and Latina; I would never change my eyes to look like another race's or wear clothing to appear Native American. Quite simply, it feels like common sense to me. And yet, a YouGov/Huffington Post poll last year found that 60 percent of white Americans feel that you should be able to wear whatever you want on Halloween — blackface included. So here is my plea to the world: Please, please, resist the urge. Halloween or not, racist costumes — which yes, includes blackface — are never okay. As much as you love Kanye West, or Uzo Aduba, or any other Black celebrity, just remember that what's even more important than showing your love for a pop-culture moment is showing respect to an entire culture. It may seem like all fun and games for just one night, but the mere sight of a white person painting their skin brown or Black is a reminder for many Black people of the centuries of racism, oppression, and cruelty they and their ancestors have endured — and still endure. At the end of the day, isn't it just easier to pick another costume?

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