Your Costume is Bad, and You Should Feel Bad

Halloween is this coming weekend, and you know what that means! Next monday, there will be a news report about a white celebrity who wore a costume featuring blackface. This happens every year, somebody (a bunch of people) wears a racially-insensitive costume and people who are sensitive towards racial issues (i.e. the people who are legitimately concerned about the fact that hate crimes are still a thing) will get upset.

I got to thinking about this when a friend pointed out that if you're wearing the costume of a person who's a different race from you, the fact that your skin is the wrong color can really detract from the costume. I mean, anybody who shows up to a party as a non-green Martian Manhunter is going to get laughed at.

I guess this is a coherent point more or less, but it's still probably usually a bad idea to paint your skin to look like a minority who you are not. Maybe it's fine though? Maybe your costume isn't totally racist? To help figure that out, I came up with a nice, quick questionairre!

  1. Is your costume already really problematic? For example, if you want to dress as Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, that's probably a good costume. Samuel L. Jackson is cool; Nick Fury is cool; of course you want to dress like him. If you want to dress like Mike Brown... you've made a terrible decision and you should probably start over. In general, if you want to dress like a character from a work of fiction you like, it's probably OK with some notable exceptions. (White people should not dress like any of the characters from Django Unchained for example.
  2. Are you good enough at makeup? If you're just going to smear shoe polish on yourself, you're making a huge mistake and should rethink your costume. However, with quality makeup, you can definitely make your skin a few shades lighter or darker. With enough subtlety and skill, your makeup might not even be noticeable. For example, if you're Irish, you're probably not going to be able to believably achieve Samuel L. Jackson's skin tone.
  3. Finally, which would be a bigger distraction: your skin tone not matching your character's or the fact that you're wearing obvious makeup all night? Is the color of your character's skin so iconic that you can't get away with looking kind of like yourself? Which questions would be easier for you to answer all night: "You're supposed to be X, right? Why haven't you painted your face Y color?" or "Why are you in blackface? Are you some kind of racist?" Which is going to be more upsetting to people: white Nick Fury or racist makeup Nick Fury?

Long story short: If you're a white dude, you should dress like old-school comic era Nick Fury. That sounds like a pretty cool costume!

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