Wednesday, October 21, 2009

suddenly get interested in non-white people whenever halloween comes around

I think it's strange how whenever Halloween comes around, so many white people suddenly get interested in non-white people. I also think it's sad and frustrating how so much of that interest ends up getting expressed in racist ways.

How about a Halloween racism check -- do any of the following four images strike you as a racist way for a white person to celebrate Halloween? If so, would you make an effort to point that out to such white celebrants?













Each of these images includes white people celebrating Halloween by connecting with other races. Or rather, with their own ideas of other races. Of course, the photo with the Obama pumpkin would seem entirely non-racist to most Americans [edit: and I would say that I agree]. That's because it's the only one where white people aren't dressed up as people of other races.

So among the other three photos above of various white folks in racial drag, is any one of them more racist than the other two (assuming you think that any of them are racist)?

I would bet that for most white Americans, the image of the three blackened white boys seems most immediately wrong. And for some, the only one that's wrong. That one is pretty widely recognizable as an example of the old-fashioned, denigrated entertainment practice of "blackface." That thing that got Ted Danson in trouble back in the day, during . . . what was it?

Oh right, a celebrity roast, for Whoopi Goldberg:

Ted Danson
Friars Club Roast (1993)


If the other two get-ups depicted above -- the "Indian Brave" and the "Geisha" -- don't seem as racist to a lot of white people as the one depicting blackface "wiggers," why is that? Why is it that blackface is more clearly wrong, while redface or yellowface are okay, or else, not as wrong?

The controversial costume making the rounds this year is this one, the "illegal alien" -- does it avoid being a racist caricature because it doesn't actually depict a human being?




Isn't that clever? And look, he has a green card! But, wait -- so he's not "illegal"?

After receiving complaints about this costume, major retailer Target has stopped selling it. Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, calls it “distasteful, mean-spirited, and ignorant of social stigmas and current debate on immigration reform.”

On the other hand, according to CNN,

William Gheen, the president of Americans for Legal Immigration, said he intends to buy the costume, and calls the reaction unfounded.

"The only people getting upset are the hyper-sensitive, over-politically correct, pro-amnesty, illegal alien-supporting nuts," said Gheen. "You can't attack people's freedom in this country."


What about Halloween parties that have racial themes? Do you think those are wrong? Like the "ghetto fabulous" or "tacos and tequila" parties that occur on college campuses? And in people's living rooms?




It's been my experience that when white folks are questioned about such Halloween choices, they usually brush off any allegations of racism with the claim that it's all just good, harmless fun. The implication is that they don't intend to be racist, and therefore, they're not. Never mind any actual effects of their actions.

But if those are "all in good fun," then how about a houseful of white folks throwing something called a "lynching party"? Would that be any different, or worse?

Actually, I wonder if that's what these young good ol' boys at Auburn University called this Halloween party:




So what do you think? Where do you draw the line on these things?

If you see anyone dressed up like a stereotype this Halloween, do you plan to say anything to them?

If you do encounter costumes or situations that conjure up racist stereotypes, you might recall the words of Guillermo Iglesias, whose parents were illegal immigrants in the U.S. Iglesias said he finds the "illegal alien" costume above offensive because it depicts illegal immigrants as "not one of us."

"I have a lot of illegal immigrant friends," said Iglesias. "If I showed them that costume, it would really hurt them."

So finally, if you're white, I have a suggestion. Aside from resisting any temptation you might have to somehow dress up like a member of another race or ethnic group -- and thereby perpetuating stereotypes and running the risk of hurting other people -- how would the following idea work for you?

If you meet a white friend or acquaintance who's dressed up that way, you could say this to them: "Wow, what a concept! Where'd you get the idea of dressing up like a racist dipshit?"


[Unfortunately, a Halloween post of this sort might become an annual tradition here, as it is at other anti-racism blogs. An earlier version of the post above appeared here.]

223 comments:

  1. Halloween=ghosts, zombies, vampires, witches, goblins, fairies, trolls, wizards, serial killers, etc...

    Oh, and there's also that dressing up as a famous movie/TV character, too. Or you can dress up as a celebrity and mock them. Personally, I don't see what either of these 2 have to do with Halloween, but I digress.

    how hard can it be to dress up as any of these paranormal/supernatural characters or pose as a movie character?

    What's the need for these morons to imitate someone of a different racial or ethnic group? I don't see what that have to do with Halloween, because it doesn't.

    we non-white people are NOT put on Earth to be mocked by white people, thanks.

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  2. I'm not understanding what's racist about the pumpkin photo. The photo carved isn't even a caricature - it's a straight portrait. All I see when I look at that photo is two enthusiastic democrats loving on the president (or presidential nominee, since I'm not sure when this photo was taken, and if it was last year then it's an even more ingenious way to put an eye-catching campaign sign out). Please help me see what the issue is.

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  3. I have an Asian-American friend who dressed up as The Bride (Kill Bill) for Halloween. Sported a blonde wig, yellow tracksuit, and a katana.

    I think the fact that it's a character rather than a race makes it non-racist.

    I think the Gangsters, and the Brave depicted are racist protrayals. I feel the geisha might be debatable. Sure it's cultural appropriation, but the white facepaint was done by real geishas as well.

    I guess the question is whether the person wanted to be an Asian for Halloween, or a geisha for Halloween. What if the white person simply wanted to be Sayuri from that MoaG movie.

    Ultimately, Halloween is an opportunity for people to be what they are not, and that can include being another culture, but it has to be done appropriately and with respect.

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  4. M., as you look at pictures in blog posts, you should also read the words that accompany them -- might help, ya know?

    The photos are as Macon writes a "racism check," to think about what is and isn't racist in white people's Halloween stuff dealing with other races; under them it says,

    Each of these images includes white people celebrating Halloween by connecting with other races. Or rather, with their own ideas of other races. Of course, the photo with the Obama pumpkin would seem entirely non-racist to most Americans. That's because it's the only one where white people aren't dressed up as people of other races.

    It seems obvious to me that the post is saying that the Obama pumpkin is the one image there that is NOT racist.

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  5. AE, the seed of doubt is "most Americans". Given that many (and, arguably, "most") Americans are racially insensitive at best, saying "most Americans wouldn't think this was racist" cannot be assumed to imply that the thing in question is actually not racist.

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  6. "Ultimately, Halloween is an opportunity for people to be what they are not, and that can include being another culture, but it has to be done appropriately and with respect."

    Thinking it over, given the amount of knowledge most white people have of other cultures, this all probably means "Just don't do it."

    Another point I wanted to raise was intent, which most of the time is irrelevant if the consequence is the same: racist.

    Thinking about what the men in blackface or the brave costume were thinking, it doesn't scream a positive view of the cultures.

    The girl probably thought "I think geishas are so pretty" *giggle hairflip*. While shallow and naive, it does have a degree of positivity.

    I am still mulling over this post though, as I dunno if I am raising valid points, or simply have a double-standard.

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  7. I had an argument at a family Christmas gathering with my aunt, who'd hosted a Halloween party my sister went to. My sister had told me one of my aunt's neighbors dressed as a "Chinaman" with coolie hat, buck teeth, and fake accent. My aunt said it was funny, and not at all racist or offensive.

    I took a massive step back from my aunt after that. (And second-hand, I hear she's said far worse stuff.) I'd rather not even hear the crap that comes out of her mouth than be there to confront her—but if she's racist in front of me, I'm absolutely calling her on it.

    If American Indians and Asian-Americans had as prominent a position in the U.S. as African-Americans do (e.g., NAACP, stand-up comedians talking about race, etc.), people would be more inclined to view those costumes as just as blatantly racist.

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  8. And I believe I have finally arrived to a logical conclusion.

    So suppose I wanted to dress up as Kanye West for Halloween, and constantly interrupt people.

    I could get a kaffiyeh, some fresh new sneaks, skinny jeans, and shutter glasses.

    All that and I wouldn't look like Kanye, and why is that? Because Kanye doesn't dress too differently from your average hipster. One would have to resort to blackface, making the race of an individual the actual costume.

    Now if a white person wanted to dress up as Prince, they could pull that off because Prince's style is so exclusive to him.

    I think the geisha would be offensive if the person squinted their eyes and had yellowface underneath the white facepaint. But the fact that geishas have become so glamorized, and the person is relying on the outfit (Not everyday streetwear by any means) to convey geisha puts it outside of the realm of being offensive. Perhaps in bad taste, but not offensive.

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  9. I think these posts will become a tradition with many anti-racist blogs. Unfortunate that bloggers will continue to have fodder for such post, however.

    I do have one quibble--it's with the title. Halloween does not make people (White and otherwise) become suddenly interested in POC. The ocassion does, IMO, give people what they take to be a "free pass" to express their interest via racial insensitivity.

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  10. I see what mean, PPR_scribe. And, white people don't suddenly get interested in non-white people themselves at this time of year; it's more that some of them decide to adorn themselves with some obnoxious idea of non-white people. Not sure how to capture such nuances in a workable title, though.

    M. and Jake, although I pretty much agree with AE's interpretation, I can see how it would be helpful if that part of the post were less ambiguous.

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  11. Yes, thank you. I just blogged about this myself. Other ethnicities are not costumes! Neither are offensive stereotypes. Racialicious has blogged about this several times as well, including today.

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  12. My initial response was that the geisha costume was not necessarily racist, because I feel like the geisha is a "character" in Chinese culture as well (though I am admittedly pretty ignorant on Chinese culture in general, so this "feeling" may be worthless and feel free to correct). The woman was not dressing up as "Asian" -- she was dressing up as a person with a specific job within Chinese culture. If it's offensive (which I'm perfectly willing to accept that it is), I think it's more a sin of "not thinking" than being blatantly racist like the "wiggers" and "Indian brave."

    I agree with Al that dressing as a specific, recognizable character who may have a different race than you is not racist (as long as you don't use racist stereotypes to make yourself recognizable).

    In response to Al's OTHER comment, I also thought a Kanye costume would be hilarious -- but there isn't any way of making yourself recognizable as Kanye without doing something racist. I can't remember the name of the rapper who wore a band-aid on his cheek, but if Kanye had some sort of visual trademark like that, it would be simple enough to adopt his laughable behavior without resorting to defining him as a man of color.

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  13. I think the reason the geisha costume comes off as less offensive is that it's an occupation, not an entire racial/cultural category (or mockery thereof). However, insofar as it serves to reinforce the hypersexualized image of Asian women, it's still racist.

    The illegal alien thing is... interesting. I think it's mainly a play on words. I don't think it makes a direct statement about race, but it seems likely to offend, so personally I'd stay away from it.

    I love Halloween! I'd love it even more if people stopped wearing such stupid costumes.

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  14. Julian: Geisha's are Japanese.

    Upon closer inspection of the picture, I noticed that the "geisha" in question is wearing a wig. So so much for her not relying on racial costuming.

    So a point to debate: Would a blonde white woman dressed as a geisha with her hair styled in Geisha fashion, but not dyed be considered racist. The costume makes it obvious the woman is trying to be a geisha, but she is making no attempts to hide her real race.

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  15. I read the pumpkin part the way M and Jake did, so that part may be a bit confusing.

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  16. The question is whether or not you'd wear these costumes around POC, particularly the ones associated with these costumes. If you wouldn't, yeah, it's racist. If you would, you're a brave racist who should probably duck for cover.

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  17. Geishas are offensive in the sense that it's a stereotype applied to Asian women, Japanese and otherwise. The geisha stereotype implies that Asian women are submissive, silent and sexually available. That's the problem.

    The Native American costume is pretty much a cartoonish, generic portrayal of indigenous people. More offensive are the sexy Indian maiden costumes.

    The Obama pumpkin could be taken as racist if you think about the history of black people being called spooks juxtaposed with these kids using Obama's likeness and name in a spooky way. His name especially is an issue because they changed it in the pumpkin to make it spookier. All that said, I did not have a knee-jerk reaction to the pumpkin images. It's something I had to analyze.

    Finally, I think the problem with blackface is that it tends to make a mockery of blacks. A less offensive example of blackface would be when Robert Downey Jr. played a white actor performing the part of a black man in "Tropic Thunder." I haven't seen the film, but at least you can tell they were aiming for some amount of authenticity in Downey's appearance. When whites wear blackface, they tend to just slab on some shoe polish looking stuff that in no way looks like the skin color of the majority of Af-Ams. By doing this, they appear to be making a mockery of blacks and thus dehumanizing them. Now, if you wanted to dress up as Kanye West and darkened your skin to a realistic looking brown, I don't know if that would be racist. It's a move, however, that I wouldn't make if I were white. I think it's best to err on the side of caution.

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  18. I'm going to put my head on the chopping block and say that none of those costumes are racist. There's nothing wrong with wanting to dress up as someone of another race, just as there's nothing wrong with wanting to dress up as someone of the opposite gender. Dressing up as a generic person of another race or as a generic person of the opposite gender is probably going to involve using stereotypes, and that means running the risk of offending someone.

    Going further, I don't see anything wrong with dressing up in a costume designed to offend. Happens all the time. If you can handle the heat, then, as they say, it's a free country. I see gay guys dressed up as nuns wearing fishnets EVERY Halloween. Halloween wouldn't be the same without them. I would hate to see them give it up because enough Catholics got pissed (though I'm sure it is hurtful to some Catholics).

    Halloween doesn't need any excuses just like it doesn't need any policing. It's a bachannal, with both light and dark sides. That's what so great about it.

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  19. I tend to agree with the idea that if you're portraying a character where the race of the character is unimportant to the portrayal of the specific character, that's very different from portraying a stock stereotype.

    And that is part of why the geisha costume is questionable. It is appropriating a cultural phenomenon in a stereotyped manner.

    However, a Kanye costume-- would it work with a popsicle-stick Kanye mask? Question for the POC here: obviously facepaint is freaking offensive. How do you feel about white people doing popsicle-stick masks to portray specific PoC? Not random stereotypes, I think we all agree that's really offensive. But, say, if someone wanted to be Kanye or President Obama?

    Or do you feel like there are so fucking many white people, why do we need to steal PoC celebrities and characters for Halloween?

    Other than that, I completely agree with Honeybrown1976. I think that's a really good rule for judging ANYTHING: if it's not something you would do in front of a person of a certain race/ethnicity, then you already know it's offensive.

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  20. As a Japanese American I did not find the geisha costume offensive. It's not dressing up as a Japanese woman but as an occupation that is usually taken on by Japanese women. I am a Japanese women and have never been a geisha; I don't feel like the costume is inherently offensive. I can't speak about the other costumes because I am not of the races they depict but I just wanted to say that if a friend of mine wore a geisha costume I would not be offended.

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  21. julian - It is SO frustrating when people lump Chinese and Japanese people together! We are nothing alike! NOTHING ALIKE!

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  22. The rule I follow is no dressing up as a person. Period. Animals, things, etc...fine. But no people.

    Why is that so hard?

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  23. I'm black and I don't really care about any of this. A party someone has in the privacy of their home or in their privately-funded fraternity house is none of my business. Would I attend a faux "lynching party"? Probably not. But I don't see the point in trying to police what they consider fun on their own terms, in their own space. They're not recruiting me to join in and as long as they're not going out on rides, nobody is getting hurt. I've seen and heard much worse about white people from people in black beauty salons and barber shops. And I say this as someone who has lost two relatives to race-related hate crimes.

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  24. Reposted by request from Angry Black White Girl's blog (where's there more about this):

    Top 10 Reasons Not To Wear A Culturally Appropriating Halloween Costume

    10. That shit is tired and you’re more creative than that. You can be anything.

    9. You don’t wanna be “that guy” at the party.

    8. You won’t be endorsing a history of domination, colonization, and genocide through your flippant, cartoonish, or stereotypical portrayal of cultures other than your own.

    7. People of color won’t have their night ruined by your costume.

    6. No one will have their night ruined by your costume, (well… unless you’re like me in fourth grade and your home made zombie make-up gets all over some girls princess dress. Sorry Christy Godwin!)

    5. People who you’ve never met won’t take one look at you and decide to avoid the ignorant person who would wear THAT.

    4. Your odds of getting laid will be dramatically increased because you won’t have offended half of the people at the party.

    3. You aren’t an unfeeling jerk who likes to insult and hurt people.

    2. You won’t be asked to leave Fruitcake’s All Homo’s Eve party because you are a white person dressed in black face or as a “native,” a Nazi*, Indian, gypsy, geisha, sheik, or hula dancer, etc.

    1. You are an awesome, deep, conscientious individual who understands the importance of respecting the life, experiences, culture and ethnicity of people different from yourself.

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  25. This post had an interesting but unintended aspect for me. I dressed up as a geisha for Halloween about five or six years ago (although it wasn't a hardcore costume - basically just kimono and appropriate makeup - I didn't wear a wig or make any effort to look Japanese). I personally find geisha fascinating and have read a good deal about them*, and if the chance ever came to do one of the "geisha make-overs" in Kyoto, I'd jump at it. (I wouldn't go out in public though, since it seems like people would take pictures of you and such. I just want the experience of having my hair styled and professionally made up, and getting to wear a proper kimono with all the appropriate parts.)

    After getting into the anti-racism movement, I accepted that a non-Japanese person dressing up as a geisha was racist, without giving it much thought.

    But now that I am being sparked by this post to give it more thought, I'm not sure it automatically is racist. It *can* be, but is it *automatically*? I'm not sure. I'll have to think about it more.

    * And for the record, the stereotype of geisha is not appropriate to what their role really is. They're not prostitutes; they were/are skilled musicians, dancers, and conversationalists. While a sexual relationship could certainly develop between a geisha and her patron, it wasn't a situation where hiring a geisha = getting to sleep with her. Now, that changed when the new wave of "geisha" (pronounced "geesha" rather than the traditional "gei-sha") appeared on the scene, because they *were* prostitutes that co-opted the geisha name. (If anyone's interested in learning more about geisha, I'd recommend "Geisha: A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance, and Art" and "Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World".

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  26. I just found your blog, and I love it!

    That being said, I would agree with Robin about the geisha costume. I've done research on geisha and Japanese culture before (I also speak Japanese), and the perception of geisha as prostitutes is a complete misperception that people are just too lazy to correct. Part of the reason I don't find the costume offensive is because the girl obviously worked so hard to make sure the costume is accurate (as far as I can tell; I can't see the back of her neck or her shoes, for instance), which shows at least some understanding of what geishas wear (people who are cognizant of what a true kimono looks like are readily aware of the fact that geishas aren't prostitutes--you can't even put it on yourself!). If the girl were walking around saying "Me love you long time" or something stupid like that, then obviously there'd be a racist intent behind it, but I don't think the costume itself is inherently racist. I guess my general rule would be "dressing up as random member of a racial/ethnic group = bad", while "dressing up as a specific member of the group = not bad". In this case, "geisha" is a specific occupation (most often held by Japanese women) and the girl went for maximum authenticity (the white makeup is what all geisha wear, so it's not like the Asian equivalent of blackface).

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  27. The problem with ABWG's list is that is assumes these people are a minority at these parties. Ducks of a feather. A lot of times these people know the themes and are fully aware of what they're getting into. It's not a matter of right or wrong. It's a matter of taste. Some people just have seriously bad taste.

    As far as telling someone what costume they can/cannot wear or what they should/should not think regarding race? Doesn't that seem a bit Big Brotherish? Where do we draw the line? There will never be equality if certain groups want special treatment to avoid hurt feelings.

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  28. I had a similar reaction when I saw "Indian Jewelry" in a local store in their Halloween section. I don't doubt that they wouldn't sell, say, Blackface Paint as a product, but "being an Indian" for Halloween? Totally okay, apparently. *shakes head* The thing is, I bet the people who dress up that way haven't even considered the implications of what they're doing.

    However, I'm really not sure the Obama pumpkin belongs in this post. Yes, he's black and they're white, but it was probably done in 2008, when electoral fever was at a high. Though if it was done this year, disregard that comment.

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  29. I have to say that a couple of these photos just don't seem to belong in this post at all.

    The "Yes We Carve" post seems to be in celebration of our president, without any reference to his race or racial ideas whatsoever.

    The geisha outfit seems to celebrate a traditional form of entertainment in Japan. That doesn't necessarily have anything to do with race, and I don't see any hint in that photo that the costume references race or racial stereotypes in any way. Even if we assume that the person in the costume is white, in Japan, for what it's worth, they encourage people of any race to perform as geishas.

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  30. There seems to be a lot of discussion about whether the geisha costume is racist. I say definitely not. One, the costume is authentic and two, it seems to be tastefully done with no hint of mockery. If a Japanese woman dressed up as a French courtesan, would anybody accuse her of racism? Seriously, would there be cries that she was stereotyping French women? Think about these ridiculous double standards that some of you are applying to white people.

    It's very common for minorities to wear ethnic clothes from European cultures. I've seen black kids dressed up as Vikings and Asian kids dressed up as European style princesses. And when Mulan came out, I saw a girls of all races wearing Chinese costumes. Is it racist for people to share each others' cultures? What kind of dementia would cause people to think it was?

    Now costumes meant to offend is a different story, but I think a few of you have spent too much time trying to find racism where racism doesn't exist.

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  31. @アンナジャニーバ: I'm curious because your comment suggests that an Obama pumpkin during election time isn't racist, but an Obama pumpkin now would be. What's the difference to you?

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  32. al said,
    "I guess the question is whether the person wanted to be an Asian for Halloween, or a geisha for Halloween."

    Exactly. There is nothing wrong with dressing as a geisha, mariachi band, or ninja. It becomes wrong when you say "I'm going to be an Asian lady/Mexican guy for Halloween.

    Macon, I have a better example for you than the geisha: "chop suey specs" http://www.ronjo.com/costumes/08268601382.html
    https://www.halloweenunlimited.com/product_detail.cfm/product_id/699

    I see those effing things in every Halloween store and it makes me sick to my stomach that such a thing is so acceptable.

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  33. Guess white people are only allowed to wear white historical costumes on Halloween so as not to be offensive to someone else.

    For the record, I would not be offended if any person of color decided to put on a pollera (traditional Panamanian dress) for Halloween, nor would I be offended if any PoC decided to wear a kilt, Elizabethan dress, a tunic with leggings, or a viking hat (even though the viking hat isn't actually historical attire).

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  34. Re: the geisha costume.

    I'm black, but if I was one of those people who dressed up for Halloween, I could see myself choosing to dress as a geisha or a 17th c. French courtesean, and I probably [i]would[/i] slightly powder my face/neck/etc.

    Why? And how is that not racist?
    Because both groups of women powdered their faces as well.

    @ Al, who said he thought the wig added a tinge of negativity to the costume, real geisha DID actually wear wigs, so...?

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  35. ...and Elsariel brings us the infamous Arab Trader argument. Bravo.

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  36. @Elsariel

    Thanks for being an exception for us but you don't actually represent everyone in the categories you just mentioned do you.

    This

    kilt, Elizabethan dress, a tunic with leggings, or a viking hat (even though the viking hat isn't actually historical attire)

    I don't think is comparable to what being talked about here. And

    For the record, I would not be offended if any person of color decided to put on a pollera (traditional Panamanian dress)

    is great and everything but what about people who would be offended? I guess we can just erase them because you said so? Thanks.

    To echo sort of what DIMA said at the top, is it really so hard to just not insult Native Americans by dressing up as a highly stylized, romantic & inaccurate portrayal of them? Can you take a moment out of your privileged life and just think about what you're really doing when you dress up like a "geisha"? I mean really if you have to go all out your way to try to explain how _______ is not racist you might want to think on that.

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  37. @Greg Dragon

    I can see how my response would be taken as the "infamous Arab Trader argument". I'm well aware of stigma against flipping the actors.

    However, I still want to know why it would be okay for a PoC to donn European historical dress but not for a white person.

    I'm trying to understand why its okay for one race and not another. Would you care to respond?

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  38. I still don't get how the pumpkin is racist.

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  39. I still don't get how the pumpkin is racist.

    Ach. Is this what I get for making a post of pictures AND words?

    >_o

    Please see this comment from above and this one.

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  40. T.R.,

    I'm not following your sentence about dressing up as a Native American followed by your sentence about a geisha. As I mentioned above, the geisha costume (what we can see of it) is historically accurate, and "geisha" is an occupation, not a person or "type" of people.

    I think the argument of "Well if you aren't in the group who's being portrayed you can't..." isn't one that should be used, because that opens the door to reject almost everything. Example: Would anyone respond seriously if a police officer or a nurse said those "sexy cop", "naughty nurse", etc. costumes were offensive? I don't think anyone needs "permission" to wear a costume--it's on the individual to thoroughly examine his/her motivations and act accordingly.

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  41. @T. R Xands

    You are correct, I can't speak for everyone. In fact, I'm not. I'm just saying that I, personally, wouldn't be offended by it.

    I would like to ask, though, why is it not comparable? What is it about European traditional dress that is acceptable for people to wear as opposed to traditional dress of other cultures?

    Can you take a moment out of your privileged life and just think about what you're really doing when you dress up like a "geisha"? I mean really if you have to go all out your way to try to explain how _______ is not racist you might want to think on that.

    Honestly, I think Jasmin hit on my sentiments exactly. It's one thing to wear historical dress and it's another think to mock another culture. As Jasmin said, if the girl who dressed as a geisha went around imitating Asian stereotyped speech (i.e. "me love you long time"), then that would be racist and inappropriate.

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  42. Where is the line drawn between a negative cultural-appropriation and positive cross-cultural celebration?

    Is the geisha being considered an appropriation simply because it's a profession specifically and obviously associated with a non-USian culture?

    I can easily see that dressing up as something sacred like a deity or object of great reverence for a culture would be a very clear example of cultural appropriation, even if the subject matter was approached with the utmost respect. Simply because people - whites in this case - who did not grow up in that culture Do Not Get It and probably never will.

    To my knowledge, however, the image and style of the geisha is part of the Japanese export culture that is packaged and given to other countries to have Japan be seen as a culture full of rich, elegant tradition. Elegant geisha are a glossy photo in their PR pamphlet, so to speak. What that says about feminism is another matter, but that's another topic, I suppose.

    I'm curious about the pumpkin picture. "Most Americans will consider the picture totally non-racist." Does that mean... other people will?

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  43. Macon, sorry to hijack but I have a topic suggestion: Use Parodies of Real Discrimination to Sell Products: http://www.eatfreely.org/

    I can't tell you how NOT cute or funny these ads are when you actually HAVE had a slur graffitied on your property (in my case, "dyke' across my car)

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  44. I'm curious about the pumpkin picture. "Most Americans will consider the picture totally non-racist." Does that mean... other people will?

    No, it's just a poor choice of words on my part, apparently. I threw in the pumpkin to basically say, "Now here's one way that white people can do something on Halloween that refers to a non-white person that's pretty clearly not racist. What about other ways? Which are and are not racist?" I added a bit to that effect to that sentence in the post in the hopes of clearing that up.

    Maybe I should just delete the pumpkin altogether?

    ReplyDelete
  45. I don't explicitly think that dressing as a geisha is racist. The person in the picture does not seem to be making any attempt to look Japanese (her face paint represents what an actual geisha would presumably do, paint her face). I do think there are tons of other reasons that dressing as a geisha is offensive, but most of them have to do with gender issues, not race.

    ReplyDelete
  46. I'm not even surprised by a lot of this. WP "borrow" from other ethnicities and even feign some type of religion in the name of "fashion" all the time.

    Moccasins as fashion - http://fashionupdate.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/moccasins/

    Gothic crosses - http://www.amazon.com/Gothic-Pendants-Fashion-Jewelry-Necklaces/dp/B000BD5RJA

    Tribal tattoos - http://tattoojoy.com/tattoo_gallery/tribal,1.htm

    Kimono style tops -
    http://www.bitablue.com/women-apparel-chinese-blouse-c-1_17_25.html

    Saris as award show dresses -
    http://www.sawfnews.com/Bollywood/52958.aspx and
    http://www.asiaone.com/Just%2BWoman/News/Beauty%2B%2526%2BFashion/Story/A1Story20081024-96101.html

    Dashikis -
    http://stuffirecommend.blogspot.com/2009/02/kaftan-or-caftan.html

    Halloween is just an excuse for them to go head-to-toe with it.

    ReplyDelete
  47. "Maybe I should just delete the pumpkin altogether?"

    You could just re-word it a little.

    When I read, "Most Americans will consider the picture totally non-racist," I thought you were suggesting that they were (or might be) wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Also, Macon -

    Don't delete the pumpkin photo...perhaps just add an "editor's note"?

    ReplyDelete
  49. Thanks James and Jillian, I hope the note I added after that sentence clears up the confusion.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Cloudy wrote,

    Cloudy said...

    Macon, sorry to hijack but I have a topic suggestion: Use Parodies of Real Discrimination to Sell Products: http://www.eatfreely.org/

    I can't tell you how NOT cute or funny these ads are when you actually HAVE had a slur graffitied on your property (in my case, "dyke' across my car)


    Thank you, but when I go to that link, I can't say that I can see what you're getting at . . .

    ReplyDelete
  51. T. R Xands said...
    "Can you take a moment out of your privileged life and just think about what you're really doing when you dress up like a "geisha"?"

    I wouldn't defend the American Indian outfits for a moment, still less the black-face stuff, but your comment here appears to suggest you think white westerners are "privileged" in relation to Japanese people. In what way? The "Arab Trader" argument doesn't apply because we are dealing with two equally first world nations here. Why is this worse than some woman in Japan dressing up as a Viking?

    Personally I'm genuinely undecided about the Geisha thing. I can't help thinking there's some very dodgy sexual politics there, but race? Are all actual Geisha even Japanese? Have there never been any white Geishas?

    ReplyDelete
  52. Victoria writes, "WP 'borrow' from other ethnicities and even feign some type of religion in the name of "fashion" all the time."

    Victoria, are you referring to white people? Because people all over the world borrow from other cultures, and no culture is more widely imitated around the world than western culture (as a result of western dominance, of course).

    ReplyDelete
  53. @ Elsariel, who said I would like to ask, though, why is it not comparable? What is it about European traditional dress that is acceptable for people to wear as opposed to traditional dress of other cultures?

    It has to do with history. The PoC we're discussing have not, generally speaking (because I'm too tired to run through every permutation in my head and make sure there's been no exceptions, I'll just say 'generally speaking'), colonized or otherwise dominated Europeans. For example, it would be offensive for a European to adopt African-style dress, while it would not be offensive for an African to adopt European-style dress, because white-dominated countries have oppressed many African areas, whereas no African country has invaded any European country and colonized them.

    Colonization stole so much from traditional societies historically, that adopting their dress/mannerisms/culture now is basically one more theft on top of a lifetime of theft.

    It's sort of like you have somebody in a corner, and you've been kicking and beating them for a long time, and then you decide their clothes are pretty cool, so you start dressing like that. If it's something important to the beaten person, it would be deeply adding insult to injury to see the person who's been brutalizing you, wearing your clothes.

    On the other hand, if you're the one that's been doing the kicking and then your victim starts dressing like you, you'd either think 1) you'd finally beaten them into accepting your domination, or 2) they want to be like you. Either way, it isn't insulting.

    Anyway, that's my take on cultural appropriation and why it's wrong, but I could be way off-base here. :)

    ReplyDelete
  54. A couple of years back, few teachers from Houston were found dressed as black football players for Halloween. They painted their faces black and carried around buckets of chicken and I'm certain did other things to complete their outfit. Parents found out and wanted the teachers fired. They felt that if these teachers found this joke funny, how were they capable of taking their kids education seriously at their diverse public school. Of course they were never fired but if I was a student, I'm not sure I'd want them teaching any of my classes.

    To be honest, I'm not sure if I want people to hide these kind of costumes. I'd personally like to know who they are so I can avoid them at all cost. They are those people you've speculated were telling racist jokes at the water cooler, but were never certain. Halloween may be a blessing in disguise. How many times have we seen that girl wear that one slutty costume to be... well, a slut; and thought to ourselves, she's been dying to wear that in public for some time now to get the attention for something she doesn't have the balls to do in the open.

    ReplyDelete
  55. @Cloudy: OMG, those specs. I've never seen those for sale, but I'd be jaw-dropped if I saw someone wearing something like that.

    Also, I'm missing the discrimination in the eatfreely site - I've experienced homophobia too (having "dyke" permanent-markered across my high school locker so I got to look at it every day, and having the same word burned into my mom's front lawn with bleach - yeah, high school was fun times) so I was pretty wary about checking out the site for fear of being triggered, but I looked at every section and couldn't see what you meant. Clarification?

    ReplyDelete
  56. The "illegal alien" costumes I've seen are much more blatantly racist than that one--a combination of Mexican caricature and space alien.

    I agree that the Obama pumpkins are not racist--I think they're pretty cool examples of creative carving, actually. But I could definitely see non-supporters making Obama pumpkins that were racist.

    This is related to questions of cultural appropriation in historical reenactment. I'm a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, where I currently play a 16th century Spanish woman (I have no Spanish heritage that I know of, but it seems less iffy to appropriate a European culture, and I like the clothes). People hardly ever adopt a persona that relates to their actual ancestry, much less their present-day location (particularly in the U.S., which isn't on the radar of a mostly-Europe-focused medieval/Renaissance group until the very late 16th century). So you do see black people in Elizabethans (and there were black people in Elizabethan England!) and black people wearing Middle Eastern clothing and white people wearing medieval Persian clothing, and so on. A lot of people have clothing from a variety of cultures for themed events, or because they like different styles. The average level of accuracy, interest in the culture, and respect is much higher than stereotyped Halloween costumes, but I can't help thinking that there are still potential problems galore. And from more casual players there are definitely a lot of Middle Eastern and "gypsy" personas that aren't much better than "sexy bellydancer" Halloween costumes.

    ReplyDelete
  57. @Robin

    Thank you for your kind and informative response. Your analogy does put things into perspective.

    I do see why Native American and African historical dress would definitely be inappropriate. I'm still not certain about the Geisha, though. To my knowledge, white Europeans have not dominated or colonized the Japanese. So, in that case, is it racist? I mean, I absolutely can see why it may be considered sexist attire, but is it truly racist?

    *ponders*

    ReplyDelete
  58. I don't find the sexual politics of geisha particularly dodgy (love that word!) because it's not exactly unacceptable for women to dress as Playboy bunnies, "sexy" fill-in-the-blanks, etc. Many women seem to embrace these looks, when there is a very obvious scent of female objectification there. Geishas are no more offensive; in fact they are less offensive because true geishas are nowhere near prostitutes. People who assume that are just projecting their own stereotypes, and should probably read a book, IMO. I don't think it would matter whether the girl painted her face or not, since the white paint is part of the traditional "costume" that all geishas wear, it has nothing to do with making her overall skin tone appear whiter.

    ReplyDelete
  59. RE: The geisha costume:

    I agree with most of the other commenters that the geisha is representing a certain character/occupation and not an ethnicity. It's not like, say, Mr Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany's where it's just "average Asian stereotype," but rather more akin to things like a viking warrior (actually now that I think about it, why is it OK for a native american to dress like a viking warrior but not okay for a white person to dress like a native american warrior?)

    Also - how can you tell the geisha is white? She has dark eyes and the skin on her hand isn't ruddy, so unless you know the person in the costume theres really no way to tell if she's white or asian. Most geisha halloween costumes I've seen have been on Asian women, and they wear wigs too (so did the actual geishas - you'd need hair past your butt to get it in that style).

    Would it be okay (to the blog owner) for a Chinese girl to dress up as a Japanese geisha, and how is that any different from any other ethnicity doing it? Because it is a Japanese cultural icon, not an "asian" one.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Would it be okay (to the blog owner) for a Chinese girl to dress up as a Japanese geisha, and how is that any different from any other ethnicity doing it?

    Given who I am (a white American), I don't think it's for me to say.

    Regarding cultural appropriation across races and ethnicities other than white, I found this post, or rather its comment thread, very helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Sagat,

    France is a country; thus, French is a language, culture, and nationality. Within France is a number of races that share those aspects. Therefore, if a Japanese woman wore a French courtesan costume it wouldn't be racist as she could be French.

    ReplyDelete
  62. Elsariel-

    While I'm not sure how well this fits with the general reasoning behind white people not dressing like cultural stereotypes of POC, it might be worthwhile to consider that during WWII, the Supreme Court upheld curfews for Japanese Americans, who were also forcibly placed in internment camps. While it's not quite the same as going into their country and colonizing them, I think it might fit into the "kicking them while they're down" mentality. I don't know. Thoughts?

    ReplyDelete
  63. @James:

    Yes, I'm referring to white people. And no one in the world "borrows" from cultures which they've repressed or "othered" quite like white people do. I'm more referring to when it looks like one is unintentionally in costume or if one doesn't really understand anything when asked about the culture or portion of culture that they're representing in wearing the ensemble or accessory.

    ReplyDelete
  64. Kate,

    Hmm... well, if someone dressed like a japanese person from that era, then I could see that as offensive. Otherwise, I'm still not seeing the wrongness of dressing like a Geisha. How is dressing like a Geisha any more wrong than dressing like a Ninja or an ancient Egyptian?

    Maybe I'm wrong and those things are offensive, too...

    ReplyDelete
  65. @macon and Robin

    Sorry guys! I mindlessly copied the link figuring the website had the ads in question. I can't find them on youtube, but look for them next time you're watching tv.

    The ads begin with sad music and people walking around eating their hot pockets. They experience nasty glares and comments from people, have their house defaced, they talk to the camera about how people can't just leave them be... just imgaine instead of racial/ethnic/orientation slurs, you have lines like "get a table". And the end of the commercial is a call to arms to "stand up for your rights as a free eater!"

    And yes, everyone in the ad is a white suburbanite.

    ReplyDelete
  66. Shit, I feel like an asshole. I sincerely apologize for my confusion on where exactly geishas come from.

    Curious incident, I didn't mean to lump Chinese and Japanese people/cultures together. I know they are not the same and I apologize for the gaffe.

    I don't think that wearing a wig makes a costume more or less racist, especially since the occupation being portrayed involved wearing wigs anyway. I guess I'm still on the fence on the geisha costume. Not that I was planning on dressing up as a geisha anyway, but since at least one person in this thread said it was offensive/racist/whatever, I would not do it.

    ReplyDelete
  67. Hey Macon,

    Good post; loved the way you wove the different perceptions with the first four illustrations.

    I just wished that in our culture - American that is - people would see Race Matters as more than a Black & White issue (pun intended).

    I don't do Halloween parties. But if I did, I'd like to think that my non-minority friends are more respectful and see this as just plain wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  68. Re: wigs; traditional maiko (apprentice geisha, to simplify the term) didn't wear wigs. They could afford the complete katsura (the wigs) once they became full-fledged geisha (katsura are hella expensive, because of the skill involved in making them, and the fact that they're made from real human hair, and require regular upkeep). The style of makeup that most people do for Halloween is more suited to maiko than geisha (geisha makeup was more subtle) so it would actually be somewhat more authentic *not* to have a wig, in the case of the average Halloween-type costume.

    But now we're just getting into quibbling. :)

    I'm still pondering whether there's an automatically-racist element to the geisha costume. Despite having given it a fair bit of thought today, I've yet to reach a conclusion.

    Would it be okay (to the blog owner) for a Chinese girl to dress up as a Japanese geisha, and how is that any different from any other ethnicity doing it?

    Oh boy, the whole Chinese/Japanese thing is a minefield, due to the acrimonious history between those two countries (many of the effects of which continue to this day - think of the resentment over Japan's continuing refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the Nanking Massacre). I wouldn't touch "Chinese vs Japanese" questions with a ten-foot pole, because that level of complexity is way, way, WAY beyond my rudimentary understanding.

    ReplyDelete
  69. And I'm a Japanese-American (who was raised mostly Japanese) who finds the Geisha costume offensive. It also makes a mockery of the culture; the "kimono" is made from cheap China town silk, for goodness' sakes.

    Wtf is up with all these comments SUPPORTING these costumes?! I feel sick now.

    ReplyDelete
  70. "As I mentioned above, the geisha costume (what we can see of it) is historically accurate"

    ...Uh, no. Are you serious?!

    ReplyDelete
  71. To re-iterate: THE GEISHA COSTUME IS NOT AT ALL ACCURATE TO WHAT REAL GEISHA WOULD WEAR. No respectable Japanese Geisha would wear a SHINY cheap synthetic silk kimono with a MATCHING shiny synthetic silk obi, with a chinatown umbrella. Do some research, people. Seriously.

    ReplyDelete
  72. Uh, yes I'm serious. Did I stutter?

    Real kimonos are hella expensive; I don't know anyone in his/her right mind that would buy one and actually wear it out anywhere, let alone as a Halloween costume. (Hence why it's called a costume...do people who dress up as judges wear real judges' robes? Doubt it.)

    The point is that this costume does not portray a "sexualized" version of a geisha: It's not a skimpy robe with a low-cut v-neck and a string substituting as an obi in the front. Like I said, real kimonos are so difficult to put on that upon viewing one it's hard to keep buying into the "geishas as prostitutes" stereotype (If you can't even put an outfit on w/o assistance, what are the chances that you can put it on and take it off several times throughout the course of the day?)

    Fact: Geishas wear kimonos.
    Fact: Geishas use umbrellas.
    Fact: Geishas wear white makeup.

    Since there are no anachronistic additions to the costume (it's not like she's wearing black Ray-Bans or something equally irrelevant), it seems silly to label the quality of the materials as racist. I think the quality/origin of the materials speaks more to people in general being cheap when spending on Halloween costumes. Like I said, who would actually buy an authentic kimono and wear it in the street? Should all Halloween doctors buy real stethoscopes and syringes?

    I'm not questioning your right to be offended, I'm questioning what the materials have to do with the costume itself.

    ReplyDelete
  73. Case in point--compare these 2 images to the costume:

    1)A geisha

    http://img228.imageshack.us/img228/2811/geisha8xl.jpg

    2) One image that popped up when I Googled "geisha costume"

    http://www.funwarehouse.co.uk/acatalog/geisha_costume_k3641.jpg

    3) Coincidentally, I found the blog/website of the girl in the picture (it popped up in the second search)--she talks about how she referred to authentic geisha to put the costume together: (Quote) " I would love to have an authentic vintage Kimono with all the extras, a real Katsura (wig), with authentic make-up, and shoes. But, I'm also on a budget, so improvises will be made to make this affordable. I'm going to make the most authentic-looking Geisha costume I can with as little money as possible."

    You can see the full-length costume here:

    http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.tasita.com/images/Tas-Geisha-small.JPG&imgrefurl=http://www.tasita.com/geishacostume.htm&usg=__lGjYcmkwsQudHZQCecYJXn5FAC0=&h=530&w=386&sz=71&hl=en&start=7&um=1&tbnid=OdZZZqWUAKrEjM:&tbnh=132&tbnw=96&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dgeisha%2Bcostume%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Doff%26sa%3DN%26um%3D1

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  74. I would argue that the obama pumpkin sinply doesn't fit. It is NOT people celebrating hallowe'en by connecting to other races - it's the celebration of a particular individual. In all likelyhood, there is simply no racial considerations at all in this photo. Would a picture of an asian who's a huge clinton fan carving clinton's face and slogan into a pumpkin be considered anything to do with race?
    It's not *just* nonracist. It's compeletely irrelevant to the point at hand.

    I have to say that I found the blackface simply hilarious, just because you can see the spiked hair and sweatband despit the costume, and can so easily picture how douchey the guys look on a normal day...

    ReplyDelete
  75. ...but since at least one person in this thread said it was offensive/racist/whatever, I would not do it.

    This seems to be the standard that many commenting are using to make their decisions, not only on deciding what is an appropriate costume, but for how they live their life: "If I might possibly offend someone then I shouldn't do it". What a horribly restrictive and suffocating mindset this must be! No wonder some of you act so pissed off. In a relationship, a good and healthy one at least, there can't but constant fear of the other person and this applies to inter-cultural relationships across groups as well. If I'm in a relationship with a girl who badgers me all the time and cries insult at every other word I say, well, that relationship is obviously bad and I need to get out. This is the exact same dynamic many of you are creating with your incessant cries of racism.

    This mindset doesn't promote inclusion. It promotes segregation. If we are to "celebrate diversity" shouldn't we actually celebrate it? If one group is forced to the outside as onlookers, then that's exclusion. Imagine if you were invited out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant by some Chinese friends, but when you got there they told you couldn't eat the food, only watch them eat, because you weren't Chinese. You think you'd go out to dinner with them again? This is what some of you are basically saying with your limitations on white people: look but don't touch.

    Hey if someone gets offended by a white girl dressed as a geisha, guess whose problem that is? The person getting offended. It's like saying we shouldn't even celebrate Halloween because Jehova's Witnesses don't like it. Hey, sorry. Can't please everyone.

    It's one thing for someone to be blatantly rude and offensive. It's another when someone is having fun and just wanting to be friendly. People need to understand the difference and act accordingly.

    ReplyDelete
  76. I think blackface is making a strong come back and people don't seemed phased by it, and those of us who have issue with it are told we are too sensitive without a sense of humor.

    If American Indians and Asian-Americans had as prominent a position in the U.S. as African-Americans do (e.g., NAACP, stand-up comedians talking about race, etc.), people would be more inclined to view those costumes as just as blatantly racist.

    African Americans aren't prominent, we are loud, and we are often dismissed. Unlike other cultures blacks have had blatant racism thrown in our faces by America, and the only reason it has ever been rectified, if only superficially is because we do yell. You don't see vocal outrage from other groups, not to the level of African Americans.

    Now that being said, I can remember as a child wanting to be Barbie or Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz for Halloween, I don't think I wanted to disrespect whites, I just wanted to be that particular character, but it would never occur to me to do the characters in white face with some stereotype of how "white people" act or are portrayed.

    For some reason this courtesy isn't always extended in regards to white people. When they want to be hispanic, they stick on a sombrero, poncho, and drink tequila, when they pretend to be black they are thugs, pimps, or folks getting lynched.

    If someone white wanted to go as Morpheus from the Matrix from Halloween, I don't think people would get upset or even think "racist". They just never ever think to do that, but instead focus on stereotypes rather than a particular character.

    ReplyDelete
  77. Upon closer inspection of the picture, I noticed that the "geisha" in question is wearing a wig. So so much for her not relying on racial costuming.

    My little black girl cousin used to run around in a blonde "Hannah Montana" wig, I don't think she was being culturally insensitive, but rather she wanted to look like "Hannah Montana"

    ReplyDelete
  78. Personally I'm genuinely undecided about the Geisha thing. I can't help thinking there's some very dodgy sexual politics there, but race? Are all actual Geisha even Japanese? Have there never been any white Geishas?

    There is a white woman who is training to be a Geisha, and as a result of her unique "whiteness" has received a lot of media attention for it.

    There is also Liza Dalby, who never became a full geisha, but trained to be one as well, and got a made for TV movie in the 1980s out of it and a book. As well as a thesis for her PhD.

    ReplyDelete
  79. YOU ARE A RACIST. WHAT ABOUT "WHITE TRASH" COSTUMES ON EBAY?

    THE ILLEGAL ALIEN GETS PULLED, BUT "RED NECK WHITE TRASH TRUCK DRIVER" IS OKAY?

    THE ALIEN ISN'T EVEN A MEXICAN. IT'S A CLEVER VISUAL PUN.

    YOU ARE THE RACIST, SCUM BAG!

    ReplyDelete
  80. You know Mark, when you put it that way, I'm totally convinced! Nothing convinces me more quickly than ALL CAPS.

    As for the un-pulled white trash outfits, that's clasism. This is an anti-racism blog.

    YOU ARE THE RACIST, SCUM BAG!

    Ding ding ding! There it is, the new classic! "You people pointing out racism and trying to stop it, YOU'RE the REAL racists!!"

    *sigh*

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  81. The costume that stuck out to me as cringe-worthy racist was the 'Indian' one. Actually I'm surprised more people didn't think that. Generic 'Indian'? Awful.

    As for the 'illegal alien'... actually I kind of like it. I can't stand the term 'illegal alien', as I think it dehumanises people. This costume illustrates exactly how much it dehumanises people. I would hope it would make people think a bit about the words they use (over here, we say 'queue jumpers' to achieve the same dehumanising effect). If people find the illegal alien costume offensive (or racist), maybe they will avoid ever calling a human an illegal alien.

    And as for the Obama pumpkin, I thought it was trading on the twin memes of "Halloween is about scary things like witches and ghosts and monsters" and "Obama as president is a scary thing". In other words, taking the piss out of people who fear having a black president.

    But it's pretty clear from the disconnect between my reading of things and other people's comments that I have little knowledge or understanding of the American Halloween.

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  82. @Mark Kropidlowski

    Stop shouting, I've got a headache.

    And the costumes you list are clearly classist and are indeed offensive for that reason. Though like everything in the US class comes with a racial flavouring.

    The illegal alien one clearly is a pun just based on the frequency of the phrase cropping up in the news recently, though it could be seen as slightly insensitive. Though as it's holding a green card it should really be called 'resident alien'.

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  83. Okay, people, on this geisha question... I'm surprised that there's so much questioning...

    It seems to me that in the west, geishas have been exoticized and sexualized.

    It also seems to me that the idea of "geisha" is inextricably linked to ethnicity.

    Thus, if a geisha costume plays to sexual stereotypes (which I think it does--no matter if it's a "sexy" geisha costume or not), it cannot help but play to racial stereotypes as well.

    Given the general western tendency to exoticize and sexualize Asian women, I don't buy the idea that a geisha costume is okay because it represents an occupation--when that occupation, in the minds of too many white men, is prostitute (read: manipulatable to male desire).

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  84. Would this make an acceptable costume for a Black man in America?

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/10356/saturday-night-live-white-like-me

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  85. Quote: "If someone white wanted to go as Morpheus from the Matrix from Halloween, I don't think people would get upset or even think "racist".

    Um, you haven't read this blog before, have you? According to these folks, EVERYTHING white people do, from getting up and brushing their teeth in the morning to going to bed at night, is racist. Don't argue. In fact, I don't even know why I'm bothering to comment, this comment won't get published.

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  86. Blogger The Takeout Wench. said...

    "And I'm a Japanese-American (who was raised mostly Japanese) who finds the Geisha costume offensive."

    Apologies but that still doesn't solve the dilemma for me. If a Japanese person dressed as an inauthentic Viking and a Norwegian insisted it was 'offensive' I still wouldn't be persuaded, because I don't see Norwegians as having a history of being oppressed by the Japanese.

    The question is surely whether Japanese people are in a position of disadvantage compared with Americans.

    What I can accept complicates things horribly is the specific history of Japanese-Americans, who do have a history of disadvantage in the US. But is this Geisha costume anything to do with Japanese-Americans, or is it borrowed directly from Japan? And what if it were a non-American white person wearing it? The oppression of Japanese citizens, unlike that of black people, is something quite US-specific.

    Also, I think Sagat has a point. As much as the rule "don't do anything that anyone is offended by" seems to make things simple, in practice you can't live like that. Racists are offended by inter-racial relationships, homophobes are offended by homosexuality. There's no way to avoid the fact that you have to make a decision over what kind of taking offence is reasonable. It requires work, and means you can sometimes get it horribly wrong, but I don't see there's any alternative.

    (I'm the kind of person who goes to Halloween parties dressed as 'bloke who couldn't be bothered to think of a costume')

    ReplyDelete
  87. Would this make an acceptable costume for a Black man in America?

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/10356/saturday-night-live-white-like-me


    No but that is a Saturday Night Live Skit intended to point out stereotypes that black people have of white people. So it is a completely different context. Unless all white people think most black people are in gangs, are being lynched, or pimps.

    ReplyDelete
  88. AE said:


    YOU ARE THE RACIST, SCUM BAG!

    Ding ding ding! There it is, the new classic! "You people pointing out racism and trying to stop it, YOU'RE the REAL racists!!"


    This is something I have seen happening increasingly on some of these blog posts and something I want to address.

    See, for all the folks here who think that calling someone who is making an active attempt to be an anti-racist racist, you're missing the point.

    The point is that we know and that's why we're here.

    I know that I have done hurtful things to people because of my ignorance of racial issues. I know that my white privilege has meant that I have been oblivious to the racism in my own words and actions.

    The point of being here is to own that racism, and say, yup, I've done things that are racist. I've had racist thoughts and said racist words. But unlike many white people, I'm not going to forgive myself for it. I'm not going to spit out the "everyone's a little bit racist" line as if that excuses my racism.

    So we're (at least the white people here) are all well aware that we have some amount of racism in our perspectives on the world. We're trying to learn and understand how to stamp it out, call it out, and take conscious action against our own unconscious thoughts and words.

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  89. bloke (who is also p but accdientally posted anonymously)October 22, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    @"Blogger The Takeout Wench."

    On relection, I think the existence of Japanese-Americans does matter to that particular costume, so I accept its one best avoided.

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  90. >> "The illegal alien one clearly is a pun just based on the frequency of the phrase cropping up in the news recently, though it could be seen as slightly insensitive."

    No. It's not just a pun, and it's not "slightly insensitive." Witness the mask that is sold by the same company:
    "Illegal Alien Mask"

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  91. Jasmine:
    "I'm not questioning your right to be offended, I'm questioning what the materials have to do with the costume itself."

    To me it's offensive because Geisha garb/costume does not only have to do with the fact that they wear a kimono and sometimes carry a paper umbrella, etc. It's very obvious to me that the material of the kimono is cheap, distinctly Chinese fabric and the umbrella is of Chinese origin as well, which makes me think that the wearer doesn't see a problem with overlapping those two very different cultures together. I'm pretty sure there are cheap-ish kimonos out there that look more "authentic"; you can even get real second-hand kimono at a really discounted price online.

    From a sociological pov I agree with Julia's point -- "if a geisha costume plays to sexual stereotypes (which I think it does--no matter if it's a "sexy" geisha costume or not), it cannot help but play to racial stereotypes as well."

    To be quite honest I would not be bothered as much with the costume (not to the point of being offended over the Indian costumes etc) if she looked like a REAL geisha and not a cheap knockoff. I still would find it problematic in that it's a white person playing an Asian character. In my opinion it doesn't matter that there are a few white geisha; it's a traditionally Japanese role that's mostly played by Japanese women.

    Seriously, I'm feeling kind of baffled at why so many commenters are defending it, and the notion that it's OK to make a mockery of Japanese culture because it's another first-world country. No matter what, Japanese and Japanese American people are "other"-ized in the US and are never seen to have the same privilege as whites. Economic privilege =/= racial privilege.

    I know cultural appropriation is a sticky area in discussing race, but being from an appropriated and misrepresented culture really changes your perspective. It's not just frivolities to me, but it really does bother me to see it being out in the open so much. Most of the time the people doing the appropriating don't know they're doing something that bothers me, and I don't think they're terrible people at all. :\ I just think it's important to do some research before you dive into something like that, even if it is a "costume".

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  92. @Willow

    Fair enough, that link does put a racist spin on it.

    I was just reacting on the basis that I lived in the US for a while and was officially a 'resident alien' and the term did make me feel like I was supposed to be from Mars or something.

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  93. The Takeout Wench said...

    Seriously, I'm feeling kind of baffled at why so many commenters are defending it, and the notion that it's OK to make a mockery of Japanese culture because it's another first-world country.

    I don't see it as being a mockery, I guess. It looks like she really tried to make it as authentic as she could with the budget that she had.

    I mean, if you really want to go there all Halloween costumes are a mockery, in other words, an imitation. Are you similarly offended of little boys wearing ninja costumes?

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  94. Elsariel,

    I think that the Takeout Wench is saying that she FEELS MOCKED by the geisha costume. In that sense, it's beside the point whether you feel the costume is a mockery or not.

    And it's an oversimplification to say that mockery and imitation are the same thing. They CAN be the same thing, but it's perfectly possible for an imitation to be WITHOUT the sharp edges of mockery

    I would, actually, have a problem with a ninja costume for many of the same reasons I have a problem with the geisha costume.

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  95. I would agree with Elsariel I guess--can only little White girls be Cinderella for Halloween, because the mainstream image of Cinderella is White? On her site she did show an understanding (somewhat) of the culture--the fact that she knows what an "obi" is, etc. I just don't like the idea of making anyone pass some kind of cultural litmus test, given that it's not the case that every member of the culture has that knowledge. That just furthers the idea of non-White cultures as a monolith, complete with "rules" about who gets a "Black card" or a "Mexican card", etc.

    The Takeout Wench, did you see the link I put to her page, which shows the inspiration she used? I'm curious as to what (if anything) you would say to her if you went to a party and saw her wearing the costume?

    As far as the stereotypes, like I said, those come out of people's ignorance, and I don't think one should have to play to that. You can't control the incorrect assumptions people make about a costume or what it represents, though you can feel free to correct them if they ask. To me, saying, "Well people assume geisha are prostitutes, so we have to accommodate" is no better than saying, "Well people assume all Black people are gangbangers, so I guess we just have to deal". I don't think one should be complacent in the face of ignorance.

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  96. http://www.russellbrand.tv/2009/10/saxon-nosh-job/

    An interesting view by Russell Brand recently written. Maybe not relevant to this post, but to this blog I would say it is.

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  97. Macon, I noticed in your post that you used the term "illegal" to describe people who migrate to the US without documentation. The use of this term is dehumanizing and perpetuates racism. Check out what Rinku Sen has to say about this word. http://www.arc.org/content/view/1333/41/

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  98. I've tried to find the CNN video, because I wanted to post it myself, but it's not on cnn.com or YouTube, so...anyway, in the clip, they decided to interview random white people to see what they thought, because random white people always have tremendous insight into ALL things that could possibly be featured on the news...so they held the mic up to a couple of white kids in a parking lot or something and asked what they thought about the "illegal alien" costume, and this girl was like, (approximate transcript)

    Girl: hahahaha! That's funny!!! hahahhahaha! hahahahahahha!

    Boy: That's racist! That's racist!

    Girl: who cares? It's FUNNY! hahaha hahahahaha...

    Indeed. Who cares as long as it made a random white person cackle?

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  99. I think it becomes racist when you dress up as a stereotype. I remember being a bit sad when I was a kid because my dark skin made me look so strange if I wanted to dress up as a "white" character. If someone is dressing up as a particular character (who happens to not be white) I don't see the problem. I was never in my youth trying to dress up as a generic white PERSON, but as characters that happened to be typically portrayed as white.

    Anyone who puts on blackface to complete a "gangsta" costume should come to my neighborhood. They come in all colors.

    I think that the Obama pumpkin is actually cool, not racist. Like someone else noted, it was a portrait, not a caricature. I don't even think that a white person wearing an Obama mask is racist. I still have a Richard Nixon mask lying around somewhere.

    My initial interpretation of the illegal alien costume was that it was satirical, making fun of people who freak out about immigrants. Perhaps I was giving it too much credit.

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  100. Obama pumpkin - lame but not racist
    Geisha - not racist
    All the others were pretty bad.

    However, HawkMom pointed out that what people do at their own private parties is their business!!!

    Some sexual practices are banned in some states. That's as silly. What people do in the privacy of their own homes, among consenting adults - it's their prerogative.

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  101. It's hard to believe that this much ignorance and privilege would come from the comment section of a supposed anti-racist blog.

    I mean, being offended by racism and cultural appropriation is on par with being offended by homosexuality and people of colour? Crossdressing (which often has nothing to do with a person's sexuality) has the same problematic implications as cultural appropriation? Really?

    I honestly don't see the the point of bickering over authenticity or the intentions behind the geisha costume, as if PoC need some sort of a "Stuff White People Approve" stamp that tells them what is racist or offensive.

    I'd hate for this to turn into another racism 101 lesson just because some people can't take the time to research or understand why this is offensive, but skeevy aspect #465409: white people are taking the "exotic" bits out of a culture (frequently acting as if they're experts after a few language classes/movies/TV shows) and bastardizing it, when at the end of the day, they will retain their white privilege and they will never deal with the daily baggage that comes with being a person of colour.

    A white woman can take off the wig, the face paint, the cheap knockoff kimono, and go back to being seen as a societal norm while a Japanese-American woman is still a marginalized minority, kimono or no kimono. That is one of the core problems with cultural appropriation. How hard is it to comprehend that the geisha imagery (which has both racist AND sexist connotations in the West, there is this marvelous thing called intersectional analysis) is exclusive to the Japanese culture, and that the picture in question is an extension of trying to emulate Asian women for shits and giggles?

    And I don't think I'm the only one here wondering: who needs racist Halloween costumes when you have "allies" like these?

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  102. I'm surprised that in this long comment thread no one has question al's blatantly sexist comment based on no information other than the girl's choice of costume:

    "The girl probably thought "I think geishas are so pretty" *giggle hairflip*. "

    and his assumption:

    "Thinking it over, given the amount of knowledge most white people have of other cultures, this all probably means "Just don't do it.""

    Although I agree with his earlier point about dressing up as an individual character, that generalization felt hurtful and alienating to me. However frustrating ignorance can be, please don't call me ignorant and insensitive just because of the color of my skin. I'm much more interested to hear if there is a reason such as a history of oppression that I ought to be aware of than to hear that I can't possibly know enough about another culture to... create a "genuine" costume? a costume in good faith?

    Here is the question I thought of when I read the original post:
    When I was 10, I described my Halloween costume as "Indian." I had a shirt and leggings similar to the ones in this post (although I made mine myself,) a cradleboard with my doll serving as a papoose, and braids with a (natural-colored) feather attached to them. I had also read extensively about the Algonquin Indians and the Powhatan Confederacy (the tribes who lived in my area,) visited archeological sites, and worried about and felt ashamed of the actions of European settlers. Would you have perceived my costume as racist? Do you think it was? And, as a parent, how would you react if your child wanted to dress up that way?

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  103. Yeah, Zoe. I felt the same way about the Alien costume. I only realized that that wasn't the intent of the distributor later when I saw their other racist costumes for sale.

    Jasmin, we discussed this a bit upthread, but here's the thing: I think it would be totally fine for a little white girl to dress up as Mulan (although Mulan is a bad example since she's a Westernized version of a Chinese character), or a little white girl to dress up as a character from her favorite Manga, for example. That's admiring the character and wanting to be like them. Likewise, a little black or Asian girl can absolutely be Cinderella or Hannah Montana or any one of a number of white characters. The issue is when someone dresses up as a stereotype. And I am sort of boggled by the number of people here who don't see "geisha" as a stereotype that is as harmful as "mammy."

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  104. Sylvia,

    I agree with you. It is just as condescending to assume someone has no knowledge about something because they don't belong to that culture (i.e., being Black doesn't make me an expert of every Black person who ever lived, and I can't assume, just by looking at someone who is White, how knowledgeable he/she is on Black history) as it is to pigeonhole a culture into 1 racist meme, like the blackface.

    I can see how Native American costumes would be popular with kids, especially since you spend so much of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade learning about the different tribes. Should we say only White kids can dress up as George Washington? What about Disney princesses (most of whom are White)? I don't see a problem with a costume as long as it doesn't perpetuate a negative stereotype.

    Elledy,

    This is the last time I am going to say this: the idea of geisha as prostitutes/sexually submissive women is a false and ignorant stereotype. It has nothing to do with the actual purpose or history of geisha, so mentioning it is irrelevant unless one wants to highlight his/her own misunderstanding of geisha culture. Dressing as a geisha is not equivalent to "dressing as random Asian woman" (people have mentioned that there have been non-Japanese geishas, but I digress) because the costume itself does not have any offensive, stereotype-invoking parts to it. If you look at it and see "prostitute", that speaks to your own racism; it has nothing to do with the wearer of the costume. By the same token, if I dress up as Sacajawea for Halloween and someone says, "You are perpetuating the idea of Native Americans as savages!" how does that make sense if I am wearing what Sacajawea actually wore? What it suggests is that the "offended person" equates Native Americans with savages, and thus looks down on Native Americans as they actually appeared. The same goes for being Harriet Tubman, or a myriad of historical figures (when I was a kid those were popular costumes). To suggest that a certain costume provokes an "automatic assumption/reaction" in others is to be 1) self-centered, in thinking that everyone reacts to things the way you do and 2) transparent, because you reveal your personal biases against a certain group/look.

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  105. Jasmin, I have to disagree with you and suggest you reread Elledy's post. She specifically says that the Geisha imagery has racist and sexist connotations in the West.

    Which it does. It doesn't matter what the real history of Geisha are or how they are commonly misperceived. In fact, it is the very fact that they are commonly misperceived in Western culture that makes the costume problematic. Pretending that because you know the history of geisha, most white Americans don't see geisha as a sexual image doesn't make it true. There is a long and well-documented history in the United States of this perspective of Asian women in general and especially geisha-- hell, Memoirs of a Geisha is still fresh in a lot of people's minds, I imagine. And the same goes for the costume wearer-- even if she admires geisha for the "right" reasons, she should be operating under the recognition of the fact that most of the white people seeing that costume are going to fetishize that "look" and that while she may not be dressing up as a sex object in her own mind, no one else knows her own mind.

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  106. @Elledy My biggest frustration is being summarily dismissed as the wrong sort of ally based on brief, arbitrary encounters and criteria that is impossible for me to meet without knowledge that I discover after the encounter.

    I LIKE being called on my crap privilege, but am I simply not allowed to be an ally until I've reached transcendence of my cultural conditioning?

    Because I put forth my opinion earlier, I can now see holes in the logic behind it and have an understanding of how my own brand of racism works and a better idea of how to combat it. Sitting back, shutting up, and never having my opinions challenged is going to make me more of an 'ally'-with-quotes than any racist sentiment I express that people can shoot down with information and logic.

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  107. Is anyone else besides me noticing that when some of the White comments talk about White people dressing up as non-White peoples, it's all pretty generic (geisha, ninja, Indian, blackface) but when it comes to dressing up as White people, it's usually a specific character?

    Am I the only one baffled that there's disagreement about why one would be considered offensive while the other would not?

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  108. Pistolina,

    But doesn't that legitimize the stereotype in the first place? Since many White people think all Black women are neck-rolling Jezebels should I just shrug my shoulders and say "Oh well" when they accuse me of being one?

    I feel like POC being the "final decision makers" on whether a costume is racist or not is just another form of tokenism. Doesn't that encourage people to say, "Before I dress up as Oprah for Halloween, I better go ask my Black friend what she thinks"? It's just another way of saying all Black people (or all Asian people, or all "Hispanic" people, etc.) think alike, so if you get the "seal of approval" from one you are good as gold.

    I would agree with OP that the bottom line is that people can wear whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes. I don't associate with people who dress up in blackface, so the fact that they wear it is really not my problem, though I will criticize their character for it. I don't like POC being assigned the role of the "racism police"--isn't that what we so often reject when White people say, "Teach me about racism", and it seems contradictory to summarily reject the role then clamor for it later.

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  109. @RVCBard,

    I noticed it too and I have been trying to point it out for several comments-- that there's a huge difference between dressing up as an individual and dressing up as a group.

    But I think you put it much better than I did because it definitely calls back up the tendency we see a lot that white people view other white people as individuals but view PoC as faceless groups.

    Jasmin, I don't really know how else to put this, i feel like you're talking about this like this is about whether white people should be "allowed" or justified to dress one way or another rather than about whether something actually hurts someone else's feelings. I don't think any costume is worth that.

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  110. This kind of Japanese racism seems normal to me:

    "To me it's offensive because Geisha garb/costume does not only have to do with the fact that they wear a kimono and sometimes carry a paper umbrella, etc. It's very obvious to me that the material of the kimono is cheap, distinctly Chinese fabric and the umbrella is of Chinese origin as well, which makes me think that the wearer doesn't see a problem with overlapping those two very different cultures together."

    Every Japanese I've ever befriended scoffed at China, referring to "waking the sleeping pig" vs "waking the sleeping dragon," calling Chinese inherently cheap and uncaring about quality. It's always seemed autonomic. And confuse Koreans or Chinese with Japanese? The horror...

    "... the notion that it's OK to make a mockery of Japanese culture because it's another first-world country. No matter what, Japanese and Japanese American people are "other"-ized in the US and are never seen to have the same privilege as whites. Economic privilege =/= racial privilege."

    What are these privileges that are denied Japanese Americans? You're no Korematsu.

    "I know cultural appropriation is a sticky area in discussing race, but being from an appropriated and misrepresented culture really changes your perspective."

    Hontoni? The Japanese norm is to appropriate like mad (which is good). Most Japanese pop sounds like watered down American disco and this is the least absurd Japanese rap I've ever heard/seen:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7H14nuSdE8w

    Pretty good, actually...

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  111. RE: Dressing up as a representative member of a group vs. dressing as an individual.

    The year after my Native American/Indian costume I dressed as a pioneer. If you asked the ethnicity of my character, I would probably have answered Scandanavian/German (an ethnicity that lines up with my physical appearance, though not my family's cultural heritage as we practice it.) My friends and I often wanted to dress like representative characters from historical periods and cultures, something I would enjoy doing as an adult as well.

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  112. I think if someone wears a costume that hurts your feelings, you should say so, but I don't like the idea that Black people (for instance) should put out a "party line" that says "Dressing as Flavor Flav hurts our feelings" specifically because all Black people don't think the same. In that way, I don't think costumes can be given "offensive"/"non-offensive" labels because everyone who could presumably be offended by the costume (i.e., everyone who belongs to that group) is not necessarily offended by said costume. So, you can say, "I am offended by X", but I wouldn't find it acceptable for one to say "All people of my ethnic group are offended by this."

    I think it's hypocritical for POC to say, "I don't speak for all [insert race]", then turn around and say, "Speaking for all [insert race]..."

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  113. But that's just the point, Jasmin. White people by and large don't respect PoC feelings. RVCBard in particular has written a lot about that and had her feelings completely disrespected as a result. People are going to act like you're just a sensitive (fill in the race/ethnicity) if you get upset that someone is flagrantly disrespecting your heritage. You might get accused of being an angry black woman or a crazy Asian bitch and have more hurtful speech hurled at you.

    This is how I try to look at these sorts of things: How would I feel if someone did something to me that really legitimately hurt my feelings, in a public setting, and that they completely did not understand why it hurt my feelings, and tried to excuse their behavior? What if they insisted I was crazy or somehow in the wrong for having my feelings hurt?

    I think that as a human being, it is my job to step back and think and not do things that could potentially hurt someone. Not to do things that I could logically reason out might hurt someone's feelings, and then go ahead and do them anyway and put the onus on them to come to me and tell me.

    Sometimes, we'll all do things that hurt people by accident. It happens. And then we have to step back and think about what we did and why it was hurtful. But if you have something presented to you openly and are asked to think about whether something may be hurtful, and some people say that they might be personally hurt or affronted by it, then to me, it's time to stop rationalizing it and listen to the person who feels like that behavior hurts them.

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  114. @ RVCBard:

    I guess the main "dress up like a group" option for white people to dress up as white people would be medieval [European] outfits, a la SCA/RenFaire. Which, I would argue, is still very different from a white person dressed as a geisha or a ninja. (Hm, any word on the Ninja Turtles?) And, as you said, "random medieval wench" hasn't exactly been a popular proposed costume on this thread.

    But I think the idea of "dressing as a group" versus "dressing as a character" can be a little misleading--it would be easy, for example, for a white woman to say something like, "Oh, I'm not just a geisha; I'm specifically the main character from the book 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. Thus, not stereotyping." Although...with reference to the Mulan/Cinderella/Jasmine/etc thing, I think that there should be some sort of built-in exception for little girls + Disney princesses.

    >> "as if PoC need some sort of a "Stuff White People Approve" stamp that tells them what is racist or offensive."

    I sense either a brilliant marketing opportunity, or maybe a tribute thread of "Greatest Hits & Misses" from SWPD comments...

    Y'all, we could get rich off of that.

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  115. I don't find the Geisha outfit immediately offensive, just stupid (for various reasons, including the ones others have mentioned). But then again, I find Halloween itself stupid and unhealthy (ghosts, death, etc), so I'm probably biased. But I did find the use of Chinese actresses in that movie seriously annoying. A friend of mine told me the movie was pretty much created for the consumption of white men. Now, *that* I find offensive due to the stereotypes of Asian women that it plays on and just sexism in general.

    @anti-lib squirrel - Did you just come back from Japan or something? The blog is about critiquing 'whiteness', a concept which so deeply affects everyone. But your comments just sound like cheap Japan-bashing.

    >Every Japanese I've ever befriended scoffed at China, referring to "waking the sleeping pig" vs "waking the sleeping dragon,"

    So what did you do about it? Did you point out to them that that's prejudice? Or did you just sit there and listen every time they said things like that (which seems to happen so often to you)? Why did they feel that it was okay to say things like this in your presence anyway? Is it because you didn't say anything to stop them?

    >Most Japanese pop sounds like watered down American disco

    How is that statement any different from how the Japanese say Chinese are "inherently cheap and uncaring about quality"? You sound like you're talking about the Japanese with the same prejudice the Japanese talk about the Chinese.

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  116. Pistolina,

    We aren't disagreeing, I just don't think every situation has a "rational" way to determine whether someone's feelings would be hurt or not. If White people knew how POC felt, blogs like this wouldn't exist, yes? So I think one will inevitably have his/her feelings hurt a lot if said feelings are based on seeing people in certain Halloween costumes, especially since you can't "make" people see the offending elements the same way you do. Like I said, I just don't understand how these disagreements are resolved? If one Japanese person says it offends her but another one doesn't, can you wear it to person A's costume party but not to person B's? (I wouldn't support that solution because that still puts the onus on person A and person B to speak for theie ethnic group.) Most likely, one can't even happen to be offended by a costume until someone wears it (and people usually don't repeat costumes), so you can say don't wear it again, but that doesn't really solve anything. What about people you see on the street? (I'd probably have the same reaction to that as people have to sagging pants on people they don't know.) I guess my question is, what happens after one's feelings get hurt?

    Maybe the solution is that there are bigger fish to fry?

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  117. Elledy

    "A white woman can take off the wig, the face paint, the cheap knockoff kimono, and go back to being seen as a societal norm while a Japanese-American woman is still a marginalized minority, kimono or no kimono."

    While I _do_ accept your point as far as this image is concerned, I can only point out that what you write above is very specific to the US, and is not in any way the case globally (very much _unlike_ the case of black people, who are disadvantaged in a global sense).

    There is no history with Japanese people as a disadvantaged minority in Europe. To me, as a European, Japanese people don't naturally fall into the category of 'POC', and hence I initially saw that image quite differently. On the contrary, when I think of Japanese people I think of citizens of Japan, a first world nation and a one time major imperial power, every bit as brutal as any European (I've had several Chinese co-workers whose views on Japan were unprintable, and they had some justification for them). So this issue was not as immediately obvious to me as it is to an American. Still, serves me right for posting on US blogs. I really must stop doing that.

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  118. PS, I mean stop posting, not stop reading. This is an interesting blog, but I should stop trying to comment on a context I am not familiar with.

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  119. >>>Did you just come back from Japan or something? The blog is about critiquing 'whiteness', a concept which so deeply affects everyone.

    This blog is mostly about finding White Americans doing innocuous stuff (like pumpkin carving) and acting as if it's the end of civil society.

    >>>So what did you do about it? Did you point out to them that that's prejudice?

    Nothing. Racist/prejudiced statements don't bother me as long as they don't sound like they're leading to rash behavior. Eddie Murphy can dress in white-face and make fun of me every Halloween for all I care.

    >>>Why did they feel that it was okay to say things like this in your presence anyway?

    Because it is. 100% of people make judgements based on race. It's better for them to be open about it.

    >>>How is that statement any different from how the Japanese say Chinese are "inherently cheap and uncaring about quality"?

    Because I approve of cultural feedback. It's why music transmutes so quickly into fun sub-genres. So it's senseless to get riled up because somebody mis-copies your cultural memes. Amalgamating, mis-copying, and selecting among memes is how we get every good cultural product. But according to the cult of macon, it's evil to generalize traits (Indian costume) or be inexacting (geisha costume.) Maybe the Rolling Stones should have been more sensitive and not disseminated their morphed versions of the blues.

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  120. What I have learned is that no matter what you do, what you say, and how you approach anything in a non-racial way, someone will be offended. And usually the color of your skin determines why these people are offended, not the action itself. Life is too short to be worried by these people. The truth is racial stereo-type/racism is not just a white problem. It covers all races and I respectfully disagree with Macon that the majority of white people are racist. So I find this discussion as just another attack on white people to make others feel good while ignoring a very real, human problem. Two cents from someone who’s been around the block a few times.

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  121. @ Anti-Lib Squirrel:

    "This blog is mostly about finding White Americans doing innocuous stuff (like pumpkin carving) and acting as if it's the end of civil society."

    That's clearly bullshit.

    "Racist/prejudiced statements don't bother me"

    That's nice, maybe you could go away then instead of deriding us?

    "100% of people make judgements based on race."

    Again, bullshit. Some people make their judgements on other grounds.

    "I approve of cultural feedback."

    Again, bullshit. You haven't expressed anything of the sort on this blog - in fact you've been calling us names for our cultural feedback.

    You are acting like a troll.

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  122. Jasmin,

    Because it's not about speaking for a whole race of people. It's not about "well, if these Japanese people are okay with it, I can wear it in front of them, but these Japanese people aren't so I can't," either.

    It's about considering PoC as individuals. It's about taking the time to think it through beforehand every time we consider an act of cultural appropriation. It's about reminding ourselves that we are culturally appropriating every time we do it. It's about considering the message before purchasing a tee-shirt with Chinese lettering on it. It's about the difference between preparing a Middle Eastern dish and talking proudly about how "authentic" it is. It's about getting to the point where we recognize that we are culturally appropriating and thinking about the cost to PoC. Sometimes the cost is nonexistent. Sometimes it seems negiglible, but then we have to think about how one penny isn't a lot on it's own but once you have a hundred of them, you have a dollar.

    On your question, what do you do if you have hurt someone because of a lack of forethought or sensitivity in terms of cultural/racial prejudices? You apologize. Not emptily. If you have to sit back and think before you apologize, that's okay. But apologize and apologize for what you did, not for them feeling bad. If I upset someone through a costume I wore, I would probably go home and change. I've never had that happen-- but, then, I've never been a person of a different race for Halloween.

    Unrelatedly, I have something to say about the argument that "authenticity" determines the rightness or wrongness of cultural appropriation. I wish I could find it online, but I Googled around and bit and couldn't: I realized what bothers me about this whole "authenticity" argument. There is a really fascinating piece by Laurence Olivier on playing Othello. He talks about his entire physical transformation, all the research he did, to make his performance really "authentic." But you read it and it just makes your skin crawl, the way his obsession with outward authenticity lays bare so much racism and calls into question how authentically he understood Othello as a human being.

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  123. Jasmin, you seem oddly fixated on the geisha = prostitute assumption when that was only a small part of what I wrote. I specifically addressed the history of sexism/racism against Japanese-American women and cultural appropriation (there's that key phrase again!), which encompasses a hell of a lot more than just geisha = OMG prostitutes. In fact:

    to suggest that a certain costume provokes an "automatic assumption/reaction" in others is to be 1) self-centered, in thinking that everyone reacts to things the way you do and 2) transparent, because you reveal your personal biases against a certain group/look.

    Basically, you assumed that I assumed geisha = prostitutes when in actuality, I was talking about a larger problem of privilege and what it means to act/look like a PoC when you will never know what it's like to live as one. So please, practice what you preach and don't act as if everyone is ignorant/confused/racist about geisha while you happen to be the only enlightened worldly guru correcting the ignorant masses of offended PoC.

    Again, at what point in my post do I lament on and on about the stereotypes attached to geisha when I clearly state that it is offensive to play dress-up as a member of a marginalized culture, regardless of how "accurate" or oh-so educated you are? I highly recommend checking own your prejudices and reading comprehension levels at the door before you go on about how racist it is to criticize the idea of using someone's cultural/historical clothing as a mere playtime costume.

    Because even if you don't personally find it offensive, the fact that the practice dates back many years and hurt entire groups of people (and still does) means a lot more than harshing someone's let's-be-racist-on-Halloween squee. Contrary to dismissive opinion, this isn’t about PoC wanting to play the racism police or being hypocrites about self/group representation. This is about expressing their concerns in an environment where white people continue to normalize blackface/brownface/yellowface/appropriation/etc because to them, having fun is above all other consequences and considerations. But as compensation for their inconsolable deprivation, I'll make sure to dress up as a concert violinist and play the smallest instrument possible for them.

    As Pistolina said, the West has completely warped what it means to be a geisha. And I’ll say again that this just one of many things that feed into the oppression of Japanese-American women. I don't see how yelling "but x group isn't really like that!!!" is going to address the reasons and implications of why white people dress up as other races/ethnicities and constantly take bits and pieces from cultures for aesthetic/amusement/etc.

    In fact, it'd be outright willful blindness to think that decades’ worth of sexualized assumptions and objectification can be magically negated if a few wearers happen to have informed/well-meant intentions. The cultural appropriation aspect still does not go away if said sexualized assumptions are removed. Hence, why the geisha = prostitute bit is rather unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Even if no one is thinking "Aboriginal person = savage" as per your example, the dressing up is problematic enough considering the rampant appropriation of First Nations artifacts and traditions by white people. Context is key.

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  124. Jasmin,
    I'm a bit confused at this: So, you can say, "I am offended by X", but I wouldn't find it acceptable for one to say "All people of my ethnic group are offended by this." You do realize that many of us who are offended by these costumes are not POC?

    Elledy,
    Thanks for spelling it out so clearly.

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  125. >Nothing. Racist/prejudiced statements don't bother me as long as they don't sound like they're leading to rash behavior.

    @anti-lib squirrel - So, racist/prejudiced statements said in your presence doesn't bother you, but people who comment on things you don't agree with on the *internet* where nobody can so much as touch the other person's hair that has fallen on the floor bother you so much that you need to get derogatory with us? Nice going.

    >100% of people make judgements based on race. It's better for them to be open about it.

    But it's not okay for people to chat on the net and be open about things which interest us and doesn't interest you?

    >Eddie Murphy can dress in white-face and make fun of me every Halloween for all I care.

    That is not the same as people doing blackface (halloween or otherwise). COMPLETELY DIFFERENT history. Besides, making fun of you won't be very entertaining.

    Btw, you used the Bob Sapp and Chinese product quality example to show how bad Japanese racism is to shut us up about what we're trying to talk about and tell us how bad Japanese racism is, and then you turn around and say it's all okay because people are open about it?

    I get it. It's okay for anyone to talk crap about anyone as long as they are not talking about white Americans, the group you think you are a part of. Srsly, nice going.

    Look, if you think you're stuck in a mire because your arguments aren't logical anymore, don't push it. And I am being the real idiot for wasting my time responding to you. sigh.

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  126. Alii Silverwing: This succinctly describes what I’m fed up with. I'm not directing this at you in particular, as your post wasn't one of the many rage-inducers that sparked my initial post. But I must wonder how certain "allies" can even call themselves allies when they’re so quick to state what isn’t racist without thinking about why people find it offensive and hurtful, make the issue all about them, throw in answers straight out of the ol’ bingo card or Derailing for Dummies, claim that case of x isn’t as bad as y because it’s not as overt, and/or conflate different circumstances/social oppressions to make a point.

    All I have to go by is text. If they can’t organize their thoughts in a manner that isn’t minimizing or flippant without an ounce of regard for historical context or other people’s experiences, then I’m not going to offer them cookies by the virtue of being self-proclaimed allies.

    p: While I did mention Japanese-American women, I also said "racist/sexist connotations in the West" regarding geisha, West meaning more than just North America. White privilege is something that exists on a global level as much as black oppression. In fact, I don't think it's logical for one to say that black oppression exists on a global scale, but white privilege and other forms of racism do not. Just because there isn't much mainstream news regarding Japanese-Europeans (who aren't as numerous as Japanese-Americans) doesn't mean that they don't go through same individual and institutional forms of racism.

    In discussion of race, there are always a number of white Europeans and other Westerners who claim that racism is really an "American" thing when it isn't - ex. the incident with the "Jackson Jive" in Australia, French Vogue's use of "creative" blackface, etc. Someone also always brings up Japan vs. [insert other Asian country with whom they have bad blood] whenever anti-Japanese racism is brought up, when really, clashes between nationalities/ethnicities aren't the same as white people vs. visible PoC. In a global context, Japanese and [insert Asian country] are both minorities without that brand of white privilege.

    On a general note, The Takeout Wench was clearly talking about cheap fabric from Chinatown in her first post, not the inherent "cheapness" of Chinese goods. Then she mentioned the Chinese print of the fabric and paper umbrella to point out how Chinese and Japanese cultures are constantly being lumped in together. Funny how sir/madam troll bolded the relevant paragraph, but failed to absorb the message at hand.

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  127. "White people by and large don't respect PoC feelings."

    That is a racist, prejudiced statement - on an "anti-racism" blog. It seems no matter what white people do, they are going to be considered bad, unless they lay on the altar and beg for permission and forgiveness from all PoC. Call me a "Tom" or whatever. I just don't like blatant double standards like this.

    I get that many of you have had certain experiences that shape your views of white privilege and racial sensitivity (and so have I), but have any of you stopped to think that maybe the very people you're rallying up against can say the same? Claiming most white people are culturally insensitive may seem legitimate to you, because it's *your* experience. Fair enough. However, for a white person to claim most black people are fill-in-the-blank is some kind of heresy. What if that's *their* experience?

    About the costumes, someone pointed out that white trash costumes aren't racial, but a matter of economical class. Again, that's fair. However, so are the pictures of white guys in extreme blackface, wearing chains and urban get-up. They aren't in blackface wearing stethoscopes or judicial robes. If they were, I would be just as outraged as most of you. Believe me. However, they are lampooning a specific group that pretty much makes fun of itself by dressing and speaking the way they do. I'm in no way defending those white guys. I want to make that very clear, but my aunts and uncles didn't get hosed and clubbed by white policeman, bitten by police dogs, and arrested for sitting-in so that my generation could revert to some cro-mag culture of intelligible speech, crotch-grabbing, and slouching. I look at people like Andrew Young who was about my age during the Civil Rights Movement and I wonder if he feels proud of our progress or offended by what seems to be ungratefulness. We already know Bill Cosby is pissed.

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  128. @fromthetropics, who wrote And I am being the real idiot for wasting my time responding to you. sigh.:

    The thing to keep in mind is that there a lot of people reading who *aren't* commenting. In any discussion with someone, even if the other person in the discussion is not hearing what you're saying, that doesn't mean that other people reading it won't be swayed by your words. So I'd say that writing a reasoned response to anything is never wasted effort, because it's not going just to that person. Of course, if it's an email exchange, that's different. But I'm referring solely to discussions on public forums, where there's an audience.

    (As for me, I'm still following along, reading all the comments while trying to figure out exactly how I feel, why I feel that way, and whether that's the correct way to feel or not. Posts from both sides are being helpful in clarifying things in my head. And I'm sure I'm not the only one following this conversation with great interest.)

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  129. " It seems no matter what white people do, they are going to be considered bad, unless they lay on the altar and beg for permission and forgiveness from all PoC."
    .
    HawkMom, you hit the nail on the head. On these blogs white people are bad and other races have "never' done the same offensive things against themselves or other races, including white people. It's called going through life with blinders on. And white people can't have any values because these values will always be "wrong" and racist, even if these values are practice by other races and aren't considered so.

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  130. Eddie Murphy can dress in white-face and make fun of me every Halloween for all I care.

    He already did!

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  131. @ Old Enough:
    "On these blogs white people are bad and other races have "never' done the same offensive things against themselves or other races, including white people."

    These are a couple of blanket statements which don't actually apply to this blog.

    I've never seen Macon or any other anti-racist person on this blog say 'white people are bad', nor have I ever seen Macon or any other anti-racist on this blog say 'other races have *never* done offensive things.'

    I think that means they count as straw man arguments.

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  132. @ HawkMom:

    >> "Claiming most white people are culturally insensitive may seem legitimate to you, because it's *your* experience. Fair enough. However, for a white person to claim most black people are fill-in-the-blank is some kind of heresy. What if that's *their* experience?"

    The thing is, however, that white people's racism/cultural insensitivity isn't just evident from individuals' personal experiences: it is part of the dominant cultural narrative. Blackface, sports team mascots, movie villain stereotypes: things likes these are part of everyone's experience.

    On the other hand, there is no *dominant* cultural narrative of POC. "Culture" is white culture, basically--it represents the "white gaze." Even books, movies etc. made by POC that have 'mainstream appeal' have that appeal because they play to the white gaze, and fit in with our (white) narrative. (Please note: I by no means am intending to belittle POCs' cultural contributions, whether or not they have wide appeal; I am simply trying to argue that the most popular works by POC still play into the white narrative).

    White people's experiences with POC necessarily happen on an individual level. Experiences with white people, however, are culturally endemic. We share them. And, unfortunately, that means we share the experience of white people as insensitive bigots.

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  133. “These are a couple of blanket statements which don't actually apply to this blog.”

    I disagree Cinnamon Girl. Whenever someone points out that white people are not the only ones who do this, the response is “you’re trying to say other people do it to justify your own actions”. In other words, let’s not look at the real issues; let’s attack white people for being the same way as everyone else. If you think I’m wrong look at the comments from other blogs where people have said this. And let’s be honest here, “blanketed statements” are the essence of these blogs. They are all over this place.

    “I've never seen Macon or any other anti-racist person on this blog say 'white people are bad', nor have I ever seen Macon or any other anti-racist on this blog say 'other races have *never* done offensive things.”

    Directly they have never said this, you are correct. But when the theme is white people do this and that and it’s always negative, then you are implying white people are nothing but “bad”. And when you refuse to accept other races discriminate, including against white people, and won’t open yourself up to other peoples idea’s, you have put blinders on and accepted white people as being racist. Some of the people who claim to be anti-racist I actually consider racist by their actions and words and I don’t based this on the color of their skin since in most cases I don’t know.

    “I think that means they count as straw man arguments.”

    You are in titled to your opinion. Please remember, so am I.

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  134. HawkMom:
    You wrote: "It seems no matter what white people do, they are going to be considered bad, unless they lay on the altar and beg for permission and forgiveness from all PoC."

    I am a white person and I don't feel that the above is what is being asked of me at all.

    As for this: "White people by and large don't respect PoC feelings." It seems to me that, if this weren't the case we would hardly have a need for blogs like this one. But, this seems connected to your next argument:

    "I get that many of you have had certain experiences that shape your views of white privilege and racial sensitivity (and so have I), but have any of you stopped to think that maybe the very people you're rallying up against can say the same? Claiming most white people are culturally insensitive may seem legitimate to you, because it's *your* experience. Fair enough. However, for a white person to claim most black people are fill-in-the-blank is some kind of heresy. What if that's *their* experience?"

    I understand what you're saying, but I don't think that the logic entirely works. I'm having difficulty finding the words to explain, but one website expresses it thus: "Flipping the actors does not lend clarity to an issue, nor does it mean that you have created equivalent analogies."
    http://resistracism.wordpress.com/racism-101/

    Old Enough:
    You wrote: "On these blogs white people are bad and other races have "never' done the same offensive things against themselves or other races, including white people." This is just another (yet another) version of the Arab trader argument. Also, you seem to have largely missed the point of this blog.

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  135. “Also, you seem to have largely missed the point of this blog.”

    Julia. It seems to be that the majority of content of this blog (and others) is based on personal experience and opinions. Everyone has one. My opinion is based on years of working with the public and what I’ve experienced. No doubt they are different which is why we have different views. But my opinion means no less than yours so please don’t treat it as such.

    If this blog wants to discuss problems within the white community concerning racism then that would be fine. Instead it presents it in a form where only white people are guilty of committing such acts. The problem is some of the people here buy that. Others take it as an opportunity to bash all white people based on their own problems and shortcomings. I thought the idea of this blog was to discuss different opinions, not attack white people as being the root of other races problems. And please don’t tell me that doesn’t happen unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few years.

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  136. Old Enough wrote,

    If this blog wants to discuss problems within the white community concerning racism then that would be fine. Instead it presents it in a form where only white people are guilty of committing such acts. The problem is some of the people here buy that.

    No one here is denying that people in other countries also discriminate against others. And have you noticed the title of this blog? Why do you keep trotting out the Arab Trader argument? (Have you read this post yet? if not, please do!)

    I thought the idea of this blog was to discuss different opinions, not attack white people as being the root of other races problems. And please don’t tell me that doesn’t happen unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few years.

    The idea of this blog is not to "attack white people"; it's to discuss "stuff white people do." Or another way to put that, "common white tendencies." This doesn't mean that all white people have them, and again, it's not an attack on white people simply because they're white.

    Another "idea" here is to discuss other facets of the relatively recent creation of a supposedly superior "white race," and the ongoing effects of that creation. And that's not to say that whiteness is "at the root" of other people's problems. Rather, it's to say that whiteness still does cause problems for other people. It causes problems for white people too.

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  137. OldEnough
    I do see it differently.

    "If this blog wants to discuss problems within the white community concerning racism then that would be fine."

    To me, this is exactly what this blog aims to do.

    "Instead it presents it in a form where only white people are guilty of committing such acts."

    I don't think any of us here are naive enough to believe that only white people are capable of certain behaviors. But this blog is "stuff white people do," and therefore it is the behavior (often the not-so-attractive behavior) of white people that we focus on.

    And, yes, people are called out here for trotting out examples of non-white people committing behaviors that whites commit. That's because these examples are often (perhaps always?) versions of the Arab Trader argument--which is to say, that they attempt to excuse white behavior by claiming that the behavior is something [insert x race] do too.

    "I thought the idea of this blog was to discuss different opinions, not attack white people as being the root of other races problems."

    I am not aware of people (white or otherwise) being attacked. Nor do I see this blog as promoting an argument that whites are the root of all evil. I DO see a conversation that encourages taking of responsibility for the things white people DO do, AND the ways those behaviors reinforce racism and white privilege.

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  138. So, just so we're clear, the recommendation from people on this blog is that if a white person wants to wear a historical costume for Halloween, make sure the costume is of their own racial background. So, mainly European costumes, white American costumes, and Mediterranean costumes.

    In other words, white people should not wear Japanese inspired costumes, native american costumes, Middle Eastern costumes, African costumes, and any other costume for which the person/character they are trying to imitate does not come from their immediate racial background.

    Is that correct?

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  139. “No one here is denying that people in other countries also discriminate against others.”

    Not directly. However, others hide the fact by only concentrating on it being a “white” problem.

    “Why do you keep trotting out the Arab Trader argument? (Have you read this post yet? if not, please do!)”

    Macon, how is keeping things real “trotting out the Arab trader argument”. What is the Arab trader argument? If I were to say that other people do the same thing so my actions are no worse and I will continue to do it that fits your argument. But that’s not what I did say. What I said is, if you really want to fix the problem don’t present it as only a ‘white problem” which many of your posters do – you included at times. If this isn’t what the blog is about, put up some guild-lines on what can and cannot be discussed but don’t argue that pointing out the obvious is a “Arab trader argument”. That’s a catch all phase for when someone doesn’t agree with what is said and can’t counter the argument.

    “The idea of this blog is not to "attack white people"; it's to discuss "stuff white people do." Or another way to put that, "common white tendencies."

    Again, common white tendencies in ‘your’ opinion. Why is it when someone presents a different view they are seen as a threat, a troll, or pushing a straw man argument. You may be right in your opinion and I’ll keep an open mind to that possibility. Unfortunately, that is more than what others here are willing to give back. I’m not saying I’m a victim. I’m saying don’t discount and attack someone’s opinion at first because you don’t agree with it. Ask yourself this; are you here to discuss and understand/better yourself, or push your own opinion/agenda?

    “And that's not to say that whiteness is "at the root" of other people's problems. Rather, it's to say that whiteness still does cause problems for other people. It causes problems for white people too.”

    I agree with that 100%. Unfortunately the blog doesn’t follow that guildline and when white people are attack you don’t correct this. But when someone points out that racism is not just a white problem you do. Why? How can anyone discuss issues white people have if these comments are presented as “open season on whites” by those with a chip on their shoulders. I get tired of hearing how everyone’s problems are a result of my actions and somehow I must make amends for them. See my point? Fix the problem, don’t blame it out.

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  140. "White people by and large don't respect PoC feelings."

    Hawkmom, I am not replying to your whole post but I need to reply to this.

    I'm the one who said this. I am white. I know this happens because I am aware that there have been many days in my own life where I have not respected PoC feelings. I believed I was respecting them because I was treating them the way I assumed they would want to be treated. What I didn't respect was the fact that I should have been listening to THEM tell ME how they want to be treated. We don't do that. We tell PoC how we think they should be treated, and then get offended when they say "actually, no..."

    I have done it. I see other white people doing it. It is not the perspective of a PoC being persecuted, but the perspective of a white person who has unknowingly persecuted and is trying to understand so she can stop doing it.

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  141. "In other words, white people should not wear Japanese inspired costumes, native american costumes, Middle Eastern costumes, African costumes, and any other costume for which the person/character they are trying to imitate does not come from their immediate racial background.

    Is that correct?"

    My opinon would be to subsitute "white people" for any race but I believe that is what people are saying.

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  142. "My opinon would be to subsitute "white people" for any race but I believe that is what people are saying."

    Well, no, because when I asked if the reverse was true, I was told that a PoC could wear European costumes without any problems because PoC have not invaded, colonized, and marginalized white Europeans.

    I was also slammed with using the "Arab Trader argument".

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  143. In other words, white people should not wear Japanese inspired costumes, native american costumes, Middle Eastern costumes, African costumes, and any other costume for which the person/character they are trying to imitate does not come from their immediate racial background.

    Is that correct?


    Elsariel,

    I think a more accurate way to put it is that white people (or any people) should consider:

    --Why they wish to wear that costume.
    --How people might view them if they put on that costume.
    --What that costume says about them.
    --If that costume might be hurtful on an individual level to another human being or on a more abstract level to one group of people's perceptions of another group of people.


    And then weigh the answer they come to and whether that is the message they wish to deliver. I don't think this applies just to culturally appropriative costumes-- it applies to sexist costumes, homophobic costumes, and costumes that deal with sicknesses, mental illnesses, disabilities, religions, and other things that might directly remark on another human being or group of human beings.

    I believe strongly in free speech. If someone wants to wear something potentially hurtful, I don't believe anyone has the right to tell them they shouldn't. I don't think this is about what costumes people "should" and "should not" wear. I think this is about knowing what choice you are making when you make the choice. It is about acknowledging that your choice might be potentially hurtful, instead of hiding behind the veil of white privilege and pretending that nothing we do could harm another person who doesn't experience life the way way we do. And since I think most people are genuinely decent human beings and would be aghast at the idea that what they are doing might hurt someone else, I think most of them would make the decision not to wear those costumes. Not all of them. But I think the goal here is to make sure we are conscious of these choices when we make them, not to tell people "You may do this," and "you may not to that."

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  144. Pistolina,

    Thank you for another kind response.

    I do have to say, though, that I think you're dancing around the issue. Yes, we all have choices and I don't feel like I'm being told I have to do x or y. I know that I can dress as whomever I please and so can everyone else.

    However, based on the comments in this thread, I'm getting the very distinct impression that it's NOT okay (racism-wise) for a white person to wear a costume of a person that is not their own racial background.

    The reason for this, as I'm understanding it, is so as not to offend someone who may be from that racial background.

    However, the reverse is not true. A PoC can wear costumes not of their racial background and it is not viewed negatively because they are the marginalized people.

    I'm trying to get a straight answer, here. I know people have choices, but since this is an anti-racism blog, then I'm wanting to know what the appropriate anti-racist thing to do would be.

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  145. Thanks everyone who replied to some of my comments. I appreciate the exchange of ideas. I do have one question, though: What do we want?

    White people are the dominant culture. I get that, but like I commented in a previous post, it's not arbitrary. They've been on top of things for a few centuries now. It's what we're all used to, so it's normal for there to be a slight sense of entitlement. I don't need for white people to feel sorry for me or trip up over themselves trying to "make it right". Just treat me like a human being and we're square.

    I liken "white privilege" to our ageist entitlement. If two adults are talking, children are told to keep away and keep quiet to "stay in their place". Children are no less than we are, but we feel like our feelings and wants should come before theirs. Why is that? While visiting with HawkDad in Korea, we stopped at a subway station, because I really had to go to the restroom. I waited in line and when it was my turn, the elderly woman behind he brushed past me to the stall that had just opened. It was a situation made of complete WTF. I didn't cause a scene, though, but when I told my husband about it he explained that in their culture elderly people aren't expected to wait in lines. For all she knew, I could've had a medical emergency, but it didn't matter. She was older and "that's the way it is". It's not fair, but life isn't. Some of us are going to have advantages and disadvantages.

    If not white people, it would be some other group. Someone is always going to be The Man. Is the problem here with having a dominant culture or having white people be the dominant culture? Would you all feel better if blacks, Asians, first peoples, or Hispanics were the dominant culture?

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  146. Re: the comment "White people by and large don't respect PoC feelings"....I think this is often true and I am saying this as a white person.

    Having "good" or even "neutral" intentions doesn't mean that the impact of our actions won't hurt people of color. The white woman dressed up as a Geisha probably meant no harm with her costume, but her actions were hurtful.

    What bothers me about some comments in this particular thread is the belief that one can “prove” that racism is based in intent, rather than impact. When people of color mention that the impact of costumes such as the Geisha is hurtful, it's ignored or people of color are blamed for being too sensitive. And, white people struggle with the idea that such actions are racist because it is incongruent with how we want to perceive ourselves.

    If people of color say it's hurtful, then it's hurtful. Period. White people need to understand that it's the impact that counts.

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  147. Elsariel,

    I think Willow answered this well in her comments about white gaze.

    Here's the thing:

    When a black person dresses as a cowboy or a Viking or a medieval princess, being white is not implied as part of the costume. They are simply a cowboy, a Viking, or a medieval princess. Because whiteness is the "norm" in our culture.

    When a white person dresses as a Native American or a geisha, being Native American or Asian is part of the costume. You are playing at being the "other." This is because of the white gaze-- that our society at large others people based on their cultural appearance. We don't think of "medieval princess" as a "white thing." We do think of "geisha" as an "Asian thing."

    This is why a white, Christian woman in a Muslim nation might wear a hijab out of respect for cultural norms or in order to fit in better and not call attention to herself/be othered, but if a white, Christian woman dressed as a "Muslim Woman" as a Halloween costume, this would be othering toward Muslim women, whether or not they were women who chose to wear traditional dress. It is saying "You are not the normal. You are so different that dressing up as you is a costume for me."

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  148. “I'm trying to get a straight answer, here. I know people have choices, but since this is an anti-racism blog, then I'm wanting to know what the appropriate anti-racist thing to do would be.”


    Personally Elsariel, I believe if it’s wrong for one race to act in a way that would be consider racist or offensive, it’s wrong for any race to do the same. That should be easy to comprehend but it’s not.

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  149. Hawkmom,

    I think the goal here-- at least for me, but I think for a lot of posters of all racial backgrounds here-- is not to say that white people are bad for having white privilege, but to make sure white people understand white privilege. We don't, really. I didn't know it existed until I went to college. And I think people with good intentions want to make sure that their actions actually match their intentions. A good-intentioned bigot is still a bigot, you know? But we need to dig this stuff up and look at it so we know that we're doing it so we can cut it out. It's not that we're all sitting around aware of this stuff. Sometimes it needs to be shown to us or we don't notice it.

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  150. @Robin
    The thing to keep in mind is that there a lot of people reading who *aren't* commenting. In any discussion with someone, even if the other person in the discussion is not hearing what you're saying, that doesn't mean that other people reading it won't be swayed by your words. So I'd say that writing a reasoned response to anything is never wasted effort, because it's not going just to that person.

    Excellent point. My personal observation as someone new to this blog is there is a very palpable sense of "us vs them" in play at "stuf white people do". This is natural in any community (online or otherwise), but most blogs make an effort to limit this and I don't recall ever seeing it to such an extreme.

    "Outsiders" who post alternate points of view are treated to glib responses of "you are full of ****", "check your white privilege", "come back after you read a book". Or they are called names (racist, homosexual, child molester, stupid, uncultured, etc). Or they are responded to with childish declarations of victory (Fail!, Not!, etc).

    I've seen all of this occur on this blog of ostensibly enlightened people, without any challenge from the moderator or others in the "in" group.

    I guess it all depends on the purpose of the blog. If this is simply a place where those who share an orthodox identity studies view can come to reaffirm their orthodoxy, then all of this makes sense and is in fact appropriate (but still immensely hypocritical).

    If on the other hand there is a desire to teach someone who might want more information on the topic but doesn't (currently) share all of your views, then this is extremely counterproductive.

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  151. To me, the reason that the Geisha costume is offensive is not only because of the stereotype it portrays of Asian women, but because of the people wearing the custom have no idea what being a geisha is all about. Many westerners mistakenly believe that Geisha are prostitutes when they are actually artists. Because of this misconception, I have to wonder if the people wearing this type of costume say to themselves, "I'm pretending to be a geisha who has studied the fine art of tea ceremony, traditional dance, flower arrangement, singing, and musical instruments"; or "I'm pretending to be a Japanese whore"; or "I'm pretending to be a Japanese girl." Because of the amount of ignorance, I believe that the costume is racist.

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  152. Old enough wrote,

    Personally Elsariel, I believe if it’s wrong for one race to act in a way that would be consider racist or offensive, it’s wrong for any race to do the same. That should be easy to comprehend but it’s not.

    See the comment by Pistolina right before yours.

    Old enough also wrote,

    Macon, how is keeping things real “trotting out the Arab trader argument”. What is the Arab trader argument? If I were to say that other people do the same thing so my actions are no worse and I will continue to do it that fits your argument. But that’s not what I did say. What I said is, if you really want to fix the problem don’t present it as only a ‘white problem” which many of your posters do – you included at times.

    I can't decide if you're more like the old dog that can't learn new tricks or the horse that's led to water but refuses to drink. Here, again, is the Arab Trader argument.

    Why are you so hung up on your perception that people here (including me, apparently) are saying that only white people do this or that egregiously discriminatory thing? No one here is saying that! And I don't attend to discrimination by non-white people because this a blog about stuff white people do, not stuff Chinese or Japanese people do.

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  153. Also, whoever keeps saying that the costume is an accurate representation of a Geisha is really showing their ignorance of the culture.

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  154. "...to make sure white people understand white privilege...But we need to dig this stuff up and look at it so we know that we're doing it so we can cut it out."

    Okay, and once they are aware, then what? It sounds to me like consensus here is for white privilege to be replaced by white guilt. I desire actual equality. We have Nazis in our neighborhood. Am I petitioning for their removal? No. They have a right to hate as well as a right to housing. As long as they keep meeting in secret at their little clubhouse and leave the rest of us alone, I couldn't care less. I would hope out of common decency - not cultural sensitivity - that my white neighbors refrain from waving Confederate flags in their front yards at a greater or equal height to (or in place of) the American flag. This is a military community, after all.

    I think it undermines the whole idea of equality for white people to have to bubble wrap their thoughts, opinions, and private casual get-togethers all because I exist. I just don't like double standards. Balance is good. I'm a Libra, so bear with me. My parents and grandparents have said things about white people that HawkDad's would never get away with saying about black people. Seriously, if I ever heard them talk that way, they would never see HawkBaby again. To be honest, I limit her exposure to my family for this reason. I don't want her growing up hearing "us and them". She is a *human being* who happens to be of mixed racial heritage. According to this site's mission, she's screwed. She's destined to spend her whole life muzzled and apologetic for one half of her identity.

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  155. So, my next question is this:

    What will it take for it to be okay for people to wear whatever costume they want to without fearing offending someone else of a different ethnicity?

    When will it be okay, for example, for a white person to wear a Geisha costume without marginalizing a Japanese person?

    Or is the answer "it will never be okay"?

    Honestly, I just want everyone to be equal and have equal rights. I want to be able to wear a Geisha costume because I think Geisha's are beautiful, not because they're perceived as prostitutes or because they are traditionally asian.

    I want a PoC to feel okay going anyplace they feel like without being treated as "other".

    What do we need to do to get equality? For everyone?

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  156. “I can't decide if you're more like the old dog that can't learn new tricks or the horse that's led to water but refuses to drink. Here, again, is the Arab Trader argument.”

    I am wondering the same thing. The Arab Trader argument is, since everyone else does it then its okay for me to do the same. Am I wrong or did you forget to add something to it. What I said is that if doing something is wrong then it’s wrong, but don’t tell me it’s more wrong because I’m white or that POC get a free pass on the issue. I’m still trying to figure out how this argument applies to the ATA you are accusing me off spreading.

    “Why are you so hung up on your perception that people here (including me, apparently) are saying that only white people do this or that egregiously discriminatory thing?”

    Because if you are trying to open up people’s mind and change the world you are going about it the wrong way (IMO).

    “No one here is saying that!”

    Again, it is being implied that only white people discriminate. When someone points that every race has this same problem, they get the old “Arab Trader argument” thrown at them or that they are trying to derail the topic. Let me state this again. If this blog wants to discuss problems within the white community concerning racism then that would be fine. Instead it presents it in a form where only white people are guilty of committing such acts and some of the people here buy that. I would be more willing to listen if some of the opinions posted here weren’t racist themselves against white people.

    “And I don't attend to discrimination by non-white people because this a blog about stuff white people do, not stuff Chinese or Japanese people do.”

    Um, okay then. Seems like it’s going to be harder to improve yourself if you only look at a small part of the big picture. Good luck with that.

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  157. Elledy,

    You need to calm down (and not worry about my reading comprehension kthxmuch?). Here is what I have to say to you (and people of the same line of thought as you): You cannot pick and choose when you want to be the "spokesperson" for people of color. If you are going to lecture people on the inherent evil of Halloween costumes, don't be surprised when those same people turn around and say, "So what do all POC think about this?" I don't like the idea of purporting POC as the experts of "All things racist" then turning around and saying, "Judge me as an individual!" in the next breath. Fair? Not really. Realistic? You betcha.

    That being said, Pistolina I think you made a very important statement when you said this: But I think the goal here is to make sure we are conscious of these choices when we make them, not to tell people "You may do this," and "you may not to that." though I would add to it a bit. Thinking before acting is definitely reasonable (in all situations), and it's something we are taught as children. However, I think the breach is when we assume (we'll use the costume example) that because someone is wearing [insert costume that someone could find offensive], he hasn't adequately considered the feelings of the offended and thereby is a racist. One cannot assume that someone following the "correct" thought process will reach the "correct" conclusion, because the "correct" conclusion is a matter of opinion. The personal experience of racism, because it deals with feelings, is by definition an opinion. That doesn't negate the importance of it in the least, IMO, but I don't think the solution (in the fight against racism) is to program White people to always do things that are acceptable to POC, because what's acceptable is fluid. I also think it's paternalistic to tell people to essentially look over their shoulders every time they take a breath, because there will always be someone who is offended (tm someone above me). Just as POC don't like to be told "That wasn't racist. End of story.", we can't walk around saying, "You are a racist. End of story." I feel like *some* people look at things and say, "I should be offended (but I have no idea why)! Now let me just find a reason to be offended..." It's no good to seek out offensiveness just for the purpose of castigating someone, and it seems like one would lead a pretty sad existence if he were always on the lookout for something to get mad about.

    I guess I'll add to this once I get to the end of the comments, but I do agree with Elsariel that it is a double-standard to say POC can dress up as White characters, but vice-versa is a no. I know someone (sorry I'm not using names) said that White characters are White by default, which I think is true at times, but what about Cinderella, or Snow White, or the million other princesses/Barbies/heroines that are White? Can little Black girls not dress up as Cinderella then? If a Japanese girl is a geisha for Halloween, is it still bad? (I've never been a geisha, but a friend was back in high school when her aunt brought her a kimono-a fake one-when she immigrated to the US.) I don't like the idea of divisions by race for "acceptability" of costumes, because being a member of said group doesn't preclude one from having offensive thoughts about said group, i.e., a Black person who dresses up as a stereotypical "gangbanger".

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  158. Dalrock,

    I agree. I think there is a new trend on *some* race blogs that is just an "enlightened" form of tokenism. The underlying assumption is that all POC look at every racial issue the same, and anyone who doesn't is either a) a White person in disguise, b) a troll, or c) an Uncle Tom, race traitor, etc. How is that any better than when White people think that POC are a monolith?

    There seems to be a litmus test for POC-ness, i.e., "A real Black person would never think..." That only turns into a situation of "preaching to the choir": the same people spout the prevailing party line, and they spend most of the time patting each other on the back because the only people they engage with are people who think just like them. Meanwhile, anyone who thinks differently is ignored or disparaged...then the majority wonder why "White people don't want to get involved in race issues." Chances are, the people who did got fed up with the 5th-grade playground and bounced.

    **I haven't participated in this blog long enough to know whether what I've outlined above is the case here; it's just my general observations concerning some blogs that purport to be "educating the masses".

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  159. First of all, holy crap, this thread is huge. (So obviously I should make it huger!)

    We don't think of "medieval princess" as a "white thing." We do think of "geisha" as an "Asian thing."

    I disagree with this completely. I absolutely do think of "medieval princess" as a white thing. When I hear that term, I immediately think of medieval European princesses. "Viking" is even more of a white thing. It's conceivable to me that there could have been non-white women who married into white European royalty and thus became non-white medieval European princesses, but the Vikings were a white tribe! Cowboys could be and are of many different backgrounds, but your other two examples are about as white as it gets.

    I think the reason Viking or medieval princess costumes aren't wrong when worn by POC is because white people just don't mind. Other people feel they have to defend their culture - we, on the other hand, like to export ours. Sometimes forcibly.

    Though I do think any non-white person dressed up in furs and a horned helmet for Halloween would get teased about it.

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  160. "I don't think the solution (in the fight against racism) is to program White people to always do things that are acceptable to POC, because what's acceptable is fluid."

    I don't actually think it is that hard. It has to do with having respect for EVERYONE.

    What's going on here--ideally--is some de-programming of some less-than-respectful ways of thinking that we've (1) been taught (2) absorbed from media/society/etc.

    It seems to me, in conversations like these, there is always a clutching-of-pearls moment where someone (usually a white someone) bemoans having so many restrictive rules, blah, blah, blah. And I always feel like, WHAT ON EARTH are you talking about?

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  161. @ Pistolina: "When a black person dresses as a cowboy or a Viking or a medieval princess, being white is not implied as part of the costume. They are simply a cowboy, a Viking, or a medieval princess. Because whiteness is the "norm" in our culture. "

    Huh? You're way off the mark here. "Whiteness" is central to being a viking. Everyone knows vikings were white, just like everyone knows that geishas are Asian.

    Both the black viking guy and the white geisha girl are playing at being the "other." You might have a problem with these two people dressing up and having fun with such play but you certainly can't say that they aren't doing the same thing.

    Personally, I have no problem at all with people dressing up as the "other" - I think that's part of what makes Halloween so great.

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  162. "Whiteness" is central to being a viking. Everyone knows vikings were white, just like everyone knows that geishas are Asian.

    Say what? Vikings weren't "white." The concept of a white race was only invented a few hundred years ago. And the concept of a geisha isn't simply "Asian" either -- it's Japanese.

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  163. Take a poll macon - I bet more people agree with my definition than yours.

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  164. Vick, I don't need to take a poll to know that contrary to your claim, Vikings were not white. The concept of a white race simply came into being far later than Vikings did.

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  165. >If on the other hand there is a desire to teach someone who might want more information on the topic but doesn't (currently) share all of your views, then this is extremely counterproductive.

    You're right. What is wrong is wrong. And yes, everyone is capable of being racist. But what you seem to have missed out is how the impact of our prejudice that we dish out on a day to day basis is different depending on whether or not we are part of the dominant group. (Note: dominant/minority does not refer to numbers, but to the amount of influence/power the group has.)

    I've been in situations where I am part of the dominant group, and in situations where I am part of the minority group. When I am part of the minority group, a member of the dominant group can be prejudiced towards me and I will experience it as 'racism' (i.e. being looked down upon). And it's a very unpleasant feeling. But when I am part of the dominant group and a person in the minority group is prejudiced towards me, I don't experience it as 'racism'. It can be uncomfortable, but it doesn't have as much an impact on me. It's almost like it has 'no power over me'. This is because the person from the minority group can hate and resent me all they want, but they still see me as part of a group which they perceive to be 'superior' (or have greater access to social, political, financial institutions), regardless of whether or not I think of myself as superior. And it doesn't matter how prejudiced they are towards me, I still know that I have greater access to the institutions that matter (i.e. 'privilege'). e.g. I know that in most places I have more chances of getting decent service and need to worry less about the possibility of being discriminated against due to my 'race'. Hence, if I went around huffing and puffing about how they make me feel bad with their prejudice, it would seem a bit petty.

    This is why white privilege and racism by white people is discussed much more. Firstly, white people still form the dominant group in the English speaking societies that the commenters are from. Secondly, European colonialism has set up an international arena where white people or Westerners (which can include pocs) still have the greatest influence. The international influence of Western countries is massive. This means that when I go to a five star hotel in Indonesia, I speak English, instead of Indonesian, to ensure I get good service. It makes me seem more 'international' in people's eyes. But a white person can speak Indonesian or whatever language they please because their whiteness would have already bought them good service since being white is automatically seen as someone deserving of good service. It is sad, but it happens.

    (And yes, Japanese people also have a measure of privilege in the international arena (they were, after all, honorary whites in apartheid S.Africa). And yes, they can be racist too, as any other poc. But their privilege is still not as great.)

    This is why we focus on critiquing whiteness (not to mention how this blog is U.S. based where white people are part of the dominant group!). Is that clearer for you?

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  166. Macon, race is socially constructed in the first place, and Vikings are definitely socially constructed as white, whatever they may have been in their day.

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  167. “Vick, I don't need to take a poll to know that contrary to your claim, Vikings were not white. The concept of a white race simply came into being far later than Vikings did.”

    Macon, right or wrong she made a point. If you took a poll most people would believe them to be white. So we can see how popular opinion can be wrong, in the real world or on a blog. Of course I’m not going to accuse you of trying to pull the old “Arab trader argument” here to support her claim. ;)

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  168. Of course I’m not going to accuse you of trying to pull the old “Arab trader argument” here to support her claim. ;)

    I'm glad to hear that because if you did, you'd be spouting nonsense.

    Still unwilling to click on that link and read that post, eh?

    >_0

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  169. “The concept of a white race simply came into being far later than Vikings did.”

    Macon. I’m confused by this statement and really want to learn what you mean by this. Did you post a blog on this already? Seriously, I really want to understand what you meant by this. It’s peaked my curiousity.

    BTW – I’ve always thought of Vikings as being white so if they’re not, what are they considered. Seriously, I’m interested in the answer. Thanks.

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  170. “Still unwilling to click on that link and read that post, eh?”

    I did click and read it all the way through. In fact I agree with what you wrote. I just don’t agree it applies to what I said and explained why already.

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  171. >Take a poll macon - I bet more people agree with my definition than yours.

    Yes. Totally. But only because most people are clueless about whiteness and geishas and, ehm, don't bother to read before commenting (the geisha one has been repeatedly pointed out in the comments above).

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  172. I haven't participated in this blog long enough to know whether what I've outlined above is the case here

    Then why not, oh, take a look first instead of jumping in with both feet, especially considering how sensitive the topic at hand is? Or is a bit more thoughtfulness and sensitivity only something White people get to have?

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  173. >If you took a poll most people would *believe* them to be white.

    hmmmm. But that's not what she said. She said: Everyone KNOWS vikings were white, just like everyone KNOWS that geishas are Asian.

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  174. From somebody who HAS been watching and commenting for a while, this is how it looks to me:

    1. Macon D, a White man, creates a blog called Stuff White People Do to examine in depth the underlying and often harmful assumptions beneath various White behaviors and take a deeper look at how Whiteness functions in society, particularly in relation to people of color.
    2. Macon invites people to comment on his posts and write their own guest posts, giving their own understanding of common White behaviors as well as to share experiences and insights from a non-White perspective.
    3. People of color who want to decolonize their minds and Whites who want to unlearn their own racism contribute thoughtful commentary that gets people looking at things in a new way.
    4. People not committed to liberating themselves from the intellectual, emotional, and behavioral chains of global White supremacy constantly derail potentially transformative conversations in order to pop off at the mouth with the same ignorant, trite, self-serving garbage that people of color have had to deal with a million and one times before in every other discussion about race with White people. Ironically, they are perpetuating dynamics and illustrating behaviors that have already been discussed at length.
    5. Those same people who leave the same tired, unexamined arguments wonder why some of us are less than patient with them when they do this, especially when they openly admit to not having done a thing to be less hurtful with their willful ignorance.
    6. Those same people who leave the same stupid arguments do so as if they are the first and last arbiters of all that is good, true, and beautiful. Of course, the underlying assumption is that people of color and Whites seeking to undermine racist ideology and practice do not have the intellectual or moral capacity to reflect on their own experiences, let alone assume expertise or authority regarding them.
    7. Those same people who leave the same repulsive and hurtful arguments do so as though the lives and perspectives of people of color are merely abstract intellectual concepts to be played with and argued with as if we're on a high school debate team.
    8. Those same people wonder why many of us don't take kindly to our lives, feelings, thoughts, and experiences being so blithely dismissed and disregarded or treated so trivially. Again.
    9. Those same (overwhelmingly White) individuals think of discussing race as a big Catch-22 when all that's really being asked of them is to demonstrate a little more introspection and a little more willingness to see where non-White people are coming from.
    10. Racially conscious people who want to undermine White supremacy and decolonize their minds make up people to talk about race with because having real conversations with most people winds up in layers of suck that inhibits rather than helps the healing that comes from the painful reality of racism.

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  175. More Stuff White People Do;

    Demand POC to tell them how to eliminate racism in 3 easy steps.

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  176. I’ve always thought of Vikings as being white so if they’re not, what are they considered.

    Vikings. Whiteness is a social construct that developed long after they were gone. "Vikinghood" is a function of language, history, and culture. It is not a biological reality.

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  177. Vick and Bluey and others who have asked,

    When I say "white" in reference to the Vikings and princesses, I am talking about "a modern cultural construct of whiteness" and you are talking about "a skin color."

    Of course Vikings and Medieval princesses were most likely Caucasian. But they do not belong to a modern, Western construct of whiteness as "the norm" the same way that a geisha belongs to a modern, Western construct of Asian-ness as the other.

    Do you see what the difference is? We are dressing up as princesses and Vikings because they are still the other, even if they were white in skin tone. They are exotic and different from us. They are a fantasy. When a white person dresses up as a geisha, they are implying that they perceive Asian women as being more like a Viking or a princess than like an ordinary person. Dressing up as a Viking or a Princess is not "othering" to anyone white in the same way. We don't feel icky like someone is

    Is that clearer?

    Jasmin, I am more than happy to discuss this with you but I think your comment to Elledy was uncalled for. I didn't see anything to suggest that Elledy was less than calm and I don't really feel like debating with someone who, from here, looks like they're trying to use a tone argument. Maybe you weren't trying to, but that is how it is reading to me, so for now I'm going to refer you to the really excellent comment RVCBard just posted.

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  178. "Vikings. Whiteness is a social construct that developed long after they were gone. "Vikinghood" is a function of language, history, and culture. It is not a biological reality."

    Thanks for the explanation.

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  179. RVCBard said...

    More Stuff White People Do;

    Demand POC to tell them how to eliminate racism in 3 easy steps.


    Thanks for the snarky response to my honest question. You could say something nice like "We dont have the answer and it's really isn't simple", but instead you decide to be rude and obnoxious. Thanks much.

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  180. I understand the point that Vikings are a historical group and that they were not white when they existed.

    But they are considered white now, as several commenters have demonstrated. So in the context of this discussion, a "Viking" costume is a white costume, because collectively we think of Vikings as white.

    As for the point that we dress up as Vikings because we other them - well, you can't very well dress up as yourself for Halloween, can you? So yes, they are othered. However, there are multiple ways to other people. I would say that Vikings are othered temporally and culturally, but not racially. That is, they aren't us and they can't be, because they don't exist anymore and even if they did, we aren't in their cultural group. But they are white like us.

    Like if a white American dressed up as a Frenchman, with a thin mustache and a striped shirt and a beret and an accent, the costume would other Frenchmen in terms of national origin, but not in terms of race.

    I understand that this is all a figment of our collective imagination, but after all, that's what we're discussing, is how people are imagined. And if how we imagine people is irrelevant, then this discussion is moot anyway.

    Vikings are imagined as white, therefore to dress up as a Viking is to dress up as a white person.

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  181. Thank you RVCBard, that's an excellent summary of how these discussions tend to go. They do get bogged down sometimes, but I have faith (and evidence) that they're nevertheless worthwhile.

    And to others here, I highly recommend RCVBard's conversations with Anne Hathaway, which she linked to in that summary.

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  182. RVCBard, what are you talking about? You quoted me, but I don't understand what you are saying, and I am not White, so I wouldn't know about what "White people get to have". Can you explain please?

    Pistolina,

    I don't see how telling someone to check their reading comprehension is responding in a calm manner (which is why I called it out), since reading comprehension is not the topic at hand. Can you elaborate on what is a tone argument, and what you want me to refer to in RVC's comment? From what I read, I don't think RVC and I disagree. My general disagreement, which I don't think is pointed at any one specific commenter, is that I don't think racial issues should be aligned as "what POC think" vs. "what White people think" precisely because (as I'm sure everyone reading here already knows) not all POC think the same. You (not just you, but I am pointing you out since we have been engaging in dialogue) have yet to address my concern that POC are being tokenized by their own people when there is an expectation for all POC to think the same way about all racial issues.

    There seems to be way too much focus on "being right" than on having a discussion and laying out different viewpoints. I don't view racial issues necessarily as a debate, because I don't think the goal should be to convince people, "I'm right and you're wrong!" If you follow the formula A + B + your own personal biases = C, but someone else follows the formula A + B + his own personal biases and gets D, what do you do? Convince that person that your biases (which we all have) are right and his are wrong? It seems like if a White person listens to POC, doesn't belittle their experiences, doesn't negate White privilege, etc., yet still have a different outlook on life or race issues, that means she has failed in some way. If I say, "All people who think exactly as I do are not racist, but anyone who differs must be racist," isn't that just as bad as when White people presume to know what it's like to be a POC without ever having been one? Do I have that (meaning the bolded part) right?

    Obviously we have veered from the topic of Halloween costumes, but if you would like a more-detailed look at my take on "race" blogs you can read it here: http://jasminllenadegracia.blogspot.com/2009/10/i-feel-so-bad.html

    Sorry to pose so many questions to you(!), but I think I am confused on a more meta level--which is good, because if there weren't differences of opinion, the stereotype of all POC as a monolith would only continue to be perpetuated, and I really don't like that stereotype regardless of who enforces it.

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  183. @RVCBard
    People not committed to liberating themselves from the intellectual, emotional, and behavioral chains of global White supremacy

    Wow. Is this a cult then?

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  184. Sorry,

    In the bolded part of my comment it should read, "...yet still has a different outlook..."

    I hate typos! :-)

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  185. @Dalrock,

    A cult? What in the hell are you talking about?

    btw, i too appreciate and totally agree with RVCB's eloquent summary of how these convos tend to go. And yet, like Macon, i do think they're very worthwhile. A LOT for me to chew on here. (looking forward to the Anne Hathaway ?! stuff)

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  186. A teachable moment:

    Thanks for the snarky response to my honest question. You could say something nice like "We dont have the answer and it's really isn't simple", but instead you decide to be rude and obnoxious.

    This, dear readers, is an illustration of the tone argument.

    Now back to your regularly scheduled derailing.

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  187. [anti-lib squirrel, thanks for all the further typing, but i'm not going to continue giving you a platform with your latest two comments for derailing things here by continually repeating the Arab Trader argument over and over again. Regarding your claim that the common white tendencies being talked about here can't be a big deal cuz Asian Americans are (supposedly) doing so well, do some research, maybe starting here. As for a "cult of macon," don't be silly. And regarding your new submitted comment, Elsariel, I don't want a tangent into the tone argument here -- if you're sincere about understanding how asking POC to "be polite" is an expression of white privilege, do some research, starting with the link that RVCBard so kindly, and politely, provided.]

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  188. macon d

    You took longer than I thought to shut me up. But the blogs that progress beyond boutique status tend to either not allow comments or have pretty open comments. You should choose one way or the other and you might make some money with this ridiculous thing because your site is more fun than any of the other race-whiner sites.

    Asian-Nation is where I've found some of the data that most convinces me that America isn't segregated as PoC vs White (even though the way they calculate median wealth doesn't agree with the BLS.) On average, Japanese-Americans have gone from the internment camp to better off than Whites in a few decades. That's great, and it belies everything PCs believe in.

    It's not an Arab-Trader argument to point out that because racism is measured on a continuum, you have to have some idea what the continuum looks like. Almost everything on your site is a 1.

    I'll check up on you once in a while to see if you're using my idea of trolling through 80s cartoons for this stuff. If you're smart, then you will.

    And you don't have to hate yourself just because you're White.

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  189. Anti-lib squirrel,

    Hate "myself"? Hardly. I hate what white supremacy has done to me, and what it encourages me to do to others. And when it comes to the massive scam that is racial "whiteness," that's just for starters. You seem to think (wrongly) that you've got me and this blog all figured out; I wish you'd read more carefully.

    Your self-appointed role as arbiter of of some great Scale of Racism Severity is incredibly presumptuous. I hope that someday you'll realize that POC know more about their own lived experience, including what it feels like, than you ever could.

    I haven't shut you up. If you can refrain from name-calling and other forms of abuse towards other commenters, and also refrain from repeating ad nauseam repeatedly debunked claims, and from performing other forms of derailment, you're quite welcome to comment here.

    Not that I think it'd do you any good -- your racism seems thoroughly ossified.

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  190. "But when the theme is white people do this and that and it’s always negative, then you are implying white people are nothing but “bad”. And when you refuse to accept other races discriminate, including against white people, and won’t open yourself up to other peoples idea’s, you have put blinders on and accepted white people as being racist."

    Again, straw man. Actually if you bothered to read this blog you would see that it does not *always* point out the negative things white people do. There are a number of posts about positive things white people do.

    Asking people not to derail a conversation by bringing up irrelevant factors is *not* 'refusing to accept that other races discriminate'. This blog is by a white man, and is about what white people do. What other people do therefore isn't relevant to the topic at hand. We're not *hiding* it; it's just not the point. You may think you're bringing a fabulous bit of insight to the table by pointing out that others do it too but hey - we already know that, accept it and have moved on. You're not the first to misunderstand this blog or try to derail discussions here with that statement, and frankly it's pretty tiring.

    If you took your own defensive blinkers off you'd find that this blog is not anywhere near as sinister as you make it out to be. But if it bothers you so much seeing white people (and others) discussing what white people do, why are you here? You are taking things very personally and blowing them out of all proportion. Seriously, you think the purpose of this blog is to "change the world"? Get over yourself.

    "I get tired of hearing how everyone’s problems are a result of my actions and somehow I must make amends for them." Oh, poor you. Let me break out my violin so we can have a pity party for the privileged white man.

    Dude, it's just a blog. It's just a dialogue. If it hurts your feelings so much, don't click on it. Simple.

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  191. It’s you who is being defensive, Cinnamon Girl. Name calling, asserting I’m not reading this blog, offering to throw me a pity party with violins, and accusing me of trying to derail this conversation and all because I don’t agree with you. Not to mention you feel I’m a “privileged white man” who has no right to complain. Sounds like you’re the one with “hurt feelings”. Please remove your own blinders first before asking others to do the same. People might take you seriously then.

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  192. It’s you who is being defensive, Cinnamon Girl. Name calling, asserting I’m not reading this blog, offering to throw me a pity party with violins, and accusing me of trying to derail this conversation and all because I don’t agree with you. Not to mention you feel I’m a “privileged white man” who has no right to complain. Sounds like you’re the one with “hurt feelings”. Please remove your own blinders first before asking others to do the same. People might take you seriously then.

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  193. I find that first picture of the boys painted black or should I say looking as though they have been rolling in the mud so annoying. But, I have to feel sorry for these people at the same time.

    If I were to paint myself with a White substance and walk the streets, people could be forgiven for thinking I was mentally ill.

    When I was in my early twenties, there was a woman who was mentally ill and used to paint herself, she looked like some type of apparition, painted all white and then dressed in flowing white clothing. This woman painted herself with some kind of White paint and used to walk up and down the streets at night. She looked very scary and almost frightened the life out of my brother and myself one night when we were going home very late.

    These boys don't realise it, but they look like that woman in reverse.

    Also, Ted Danson looks like a total sideshow clown in that drag...LMAO.

    Additionally, these people who are trying to make a joke out of Black people are the same people who will sit in the sun toasting themselves trying to look black. If Black people are supposed to be so bad and the object of many "blackface" imitations, why are so many White people who allegedly don't like Black people trying so hard to look Black?

    My mind is boggling over here...

    Also, nothing can substitute natural melanin, so as hard as these people try with their buffoonery, they just look so stupid, pathetic and clown-like, to me anyway.

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  194. >> "Please remove your own blinders first before asking others to do the same. "

    *coughpotkettlecough*

    ::sighs::

    I probably shouldn't help troll-feed, but I gotta say this.

    Old Enough, reread cinnamon girl's post. "Straw man" isn't namecalling--it's the label given to a faulty debate strategy:

    1. Shannon makes an argument for Thesis A.
    2. Lewis disagrees, but can't put forth a coherent reason she's wrong.
    3. Lewis lays out an argument against Thesis X From The Black Lagoon instead, and hopes that no one will notice he didn't actually argue against Thesis A.

    In this case, cinnamon girl is simply calling you out on your bullshit Thesis X From The Black Lagoon.

    Would you prefer your pity party with tambourines?

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  195. Last Halloween, I dressed up as Sei Shonagon. I wore a Kimono, allowed my long dark hair to flow down my back, and carried my copy of The Pillow Book. I wore it to a party consisting mostly of people from the Japanese Student Association at my University, who were all Japanese, and people from the International Student Association.
    Looking back on that in light of this post, I am trying to pick apart whether it was racist for me to wear the costume. I was emulating a very specific historical figure, and the audience was familiar with that because of the Pillow Book and because my dress was not "Geisha" but more typical of a Heian-era courtwoman.

    Thoughts?

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  196. @Pistolina, who said We are dressing up as princesses and Vikings because they are still the other, even if they were white in skin tone. They are exotic and different from us. They are a fantasy. When a white person dresses up as a geisha, they are implying that they perceive Asian women as being more like a Viking or a princess than like an ordinary person.:

    Wait, what? A geisha isn't a typical Japanese woman. They were/are their own class, who had/have special status within Japan, who go through amazing amounts of learning in specific arts, and there's a small number of them, even in their heyday. A geisha is by definition different, more exciting, and more skilled in certain arts than the average Japanese woman - that's why patrons paid serious money in order to have geisha attend their events.

    A geisha no more represents the average/typical Japanese woman than a princess represents the typical white woman. This is why tourists in the Kyoto districts take pictures of geisha and maiko, rather than taking pictures of the average Japanese women walking around. While almost all geisha have been Japanese, they cannot be seen as the same as an average Japanese woman.

    That being the case, it's inaccurate to say that somebody dressing up as a geisha is seeing Asian women as a whole as exotic/different. They're seeing geisha in specific as exotic/different. Somebody dressing up as a geisha isn't seeing Asian women in general as being exotic, because if it was about Asian women as a whole being exotic/different, then we'd see people dressing up as generic Asian women. But we don't see that. (Or at least if it's happening, it's not widespread enough to be obvious.)

    It's specifically about geisha, not Asian women in general.

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  197. Lydia,

    I have a similar experience that I can relate that I think might help you with your unpacking. It's not about Halloween, but it's close enough.

    When I was a teenager, I wore my hair in dreadlocks. Even though I am white, my hair is very kinky-curly and I am from a culture where dreadlocks have historical and religious importance. They were easy to maintain-- unlike many white people's hair, my hair naturally formed dreadlocks if I did not comb it.

    I now realize that there is a really big segment of white America that wears dreadlocks as a form of cultural appropriation, because they see them as part of "drug culture" or see them as exotic, or a whole number of other things. I had no clue any of these things were true when I wore my hair in dreadlocks-- I had never seen another white person with dreadlocks. I was wearing them for convenience's sake!

    But now, after many years, I feel that even though I have many "justifying" reasons for wearing dreadlocks (they are culturally appropriate for me, they are convenient for me, and so on), there are so many white people who wear dreadlocks for less sensitive reasons that generally, if I wear dreadlocks, no one who sees me on the street is going to say, "oh, that girl is culturally sensitive about her dreadlocks. She's not like those other white people who are appropriating my culture because it looks cool/because they think I am a pothead."

    This isn't about my feelings. This isn't about me not wanting people to see me in a bad light. This is about me not wanting my hair to remind someone that their culture is largely disrespected and just be one more thing that they have to think about that day. Sure, it's not a big thing, and plenty of black people won't give a shit how I do my hair, but for one person, it might just be the final straw.

    Maybe they've just had to deal with a situation like the one in the previous post where someone asked them for pot because they were black and had dreadlocks. Maybe they've just had to bang their head against a table explaining cultural appropriation to a bunch of people who don't care or who act as if they're entitled to ask for an explanation. We've all had those days where a lot of little things add up and while none of them would be enough to make something a bad day, together they can make a horrible day.

    I'm not going to feel guilty about the time when I wore my hair in dreadlocks. I didn't know anything about these issues at the time. But I am making the decision moving forward that a hairstyle choice isn't worth being that last straw in somebody else's day. My own understanding and sensitivities don't do any good when the rest of the world has no way of telling the difference. To them, I would just be perpetuating a stereotype or an appropriative act. And my hair is not worth someone else's bad day.

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  198. @Robin,

    I think most of the people reading this blog are aware that geisha aren't typical Asian women. But I also was assuming that most people reading this blog are also aware that geisha are a stand-in for a fetishized ideal of an Asian woman in a lot of white people's eyes and not actually a one to one correlation to an actual geisha. So I didn't feel it was necessary to explain a transitive step in my description. I apologize for the confusion!

    @Robin, I know you replied to me and I am not avoiding you but I think I need more time to address you than I have right now!

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  199. Jasmin,

    If you’re constantly cherrypicking and using the tone argument (as if your “did I stutter?” quip and acting as if you know more about Japanese culture/experiences than an actual Japanese woman were ~*so*~ innocuous), then yes, I will suggest that you check your reading comprehension levels. Once again, I’d like you point out where I claimed to be a spokesperson on anyone’s behalf, instead of making hasty conclusions from things that were never said. What I clearly said was:

    Because even if you don't personally find it offensive, the fact that the practice dates back many years and hurt entire groups of people (and still does) means a lot more than harshing someone's let's-be-racist-on-Halloween squee.

    This is exactly why I don’t usually don’t bother to disclose my race and background in race discussions, because someone will inevitably someone will pull this page (and many others) out of Derailing for Dummies and claim that I’m trying to speak for all [insert group]. It’s funny though, because you seem to be doing the very thing you’re arguing against by making it clear in almost every single post that your disagreements as a non-white person (and other PoC’s “this is not offensive” revelations) has to frame and validate the entirety of this discussion.

    Once again, no one claimed that PoC had to be a monolithic hive mind of rigid, never-changing opinions. The point is that the experiences and feelings being discussed here obviously affects people other than yourself. If I am in a discussion where I haven’t had the same problems as people of a similar background, but it’s apparent that said problem profoundly affects them, I shut up and listen or bow out. I don’t sit there reminding people that as [insert group], I disagree and I have to keep telling you BECAUSE WE’RE NOT ALL THE SAME OKAY.

    Given their touchy subject matter, serious race discussions require a lot more than just pure anecdotes and “I think therefore it is/should be.” So what does a chorus of “I don’t think it’s offensive” have anything to do with worldwide documentation of behaviour that perpetuates entitlement, stereotypes, and racist ignorance? If the concepts of global privilege, cultural appropriation, and power dynamics are foreign to you, then you need to do more research before you charge into a discussion and make all sorts of claims. I find it banal for people to lob accusations of racial hivemindedness when the issue isn't a matter of just personal opinion, but rather challenging centuries-old colonial/imperialistic mindsets and substantiating one's claims.

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  200. I probably shouldn’t help feed the blinder impaired paranoid persons on this blog.

    *coughwillowcinnamongirlotherscough

    1. Shannon accuses Lewis of trying to derail a conversation and being a privlaged white man which is not a term of endearment on this blog
    2. Lewis disagrees and produces a rebuttal that proves Shannon is wrong, asking only to respect his opinion as he has respected hers
    3. Shannon responses by accusing Lewis of really being this way, ignoring everything Lewis said that proves otherwise. Then Shannon proceeds to call Lewis names/labels while responding in a sarcastic way.
    4. Another person named Wilma comes to the aid of Shannon to cover her back; ignoring that Lewis has already proven Shannon wrong and has not responded in a similar fashion.
    5. Shannon and Wilma have proven they are unwilling to listen to others with different opinions and when approached by them get defensive and twist things to their way of thinking.

    In this case, old enought is simply calling cinnamon girl out on her bullshit accusation.

    “Would you prefer your pity party with trmbourines?”

    How would you like your crow ladies?

    ReplyDelete

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