When You Know Better, Do Better: My Halloween Secret that Still Haunts

It’s 3:39 am on Thursday, November 1st. I cannot sleep. I am haunted.

While scrolling through my social media feed earlier tonight, ooh-ing and awe-ing at all the costumed cuteness of my friends’ children, a photo showed up in my feed that very nearly made me vomit. The costumes in the photo were…horrific. I could come up with a litany of additional adjectives, but I will spare you. The image will suffice.

45276229_2162336017132313_1172172273876992000_nI don’t know who these people are, but I do know they live in my small, Wyoming community. I also know from reading comments, there are other people in my community who…

a.) See no problem with this photo.

b.) Believe this is funny.

Before I launch into sanctimonious lecture, I have a dirty little secret of my own I need to air.

Ahead of the explosion of social media (thank God), in my small, Wyoming community, my friends and I also costumed ourselves in what we believed was both, not-a-problem, and funny Halloween garb.

We were the Kardashians—hot on the scene in pop culture at the time, brand new to the celebrity stratosphere. It was the perfect group costume. In and of itself, dressing up as the Kardashian entourage is not a problem and could be quite funny. Except…it wasn’t.

Because my husband and I, who were assigned Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom, made our costumes “accurate”. I fashioned myself a prosthetic butt and ordered my husband shoes with lifts to increase his 6’3″ frame closer to the 6’10” frame of Odom. I also ordered theatre makeup…used for all-over, whole-body color changing.

Oh, how it makes me cringe now. At the time…I believed it was funny. It was “accurate” costuming. Of course we would try to match my husband’s pasty vanilla complexion to the deeper brown color of the man he was impersonating. Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and undo it.

Alas, I cannot. It happened. I participated in what can only be described as the perpetuation of racism in my community. Racism…that word. It haunts me.

I’m ashamed to admit, at the time, I did not know the meaning of the term “blackface”. However, I will not make excuses. What I/we did was wrong. Ignorance is not an excuse for racism. 

Maya Angelou tells us, “…when you know better, do better.” I know better now. I will do better. And I hope anyone who might come across this blog post will do better after learning from my own ignorant mistake.

Blackface is much more than dark makeup used to make an “accurate” costume.

In America, blackface can be traced back to minstrel shows. In the mid to late 1800s, white actors routinely used black grease paint on their faces when depicting blacks on stage. These mocking portrayals reinforced the idea that dark skin—and anyone with dark skin, was inferior in every way. Even black actors sometimes wore blackface, because white audiences didn’t want to see them on the stage without it. (WTF?!?) The term “Jim Crow” (If you don’t know what Jim Crow law means, for God’s sake, look it up.) can be linked back to blackface. Participating in blackface costuming is voluntary participation in perpetuating hate. There is just no way around it.

In circa 2009, when my husband and I used blackface costuming, I didn’t know the above info. I also didn’t know, in July of 2012, I would become mother to a brown skinned boy and racism would take on new meaning in my life. My experience forced the unveiling of my ignorance.

I think author and educator, Dr. David J. Leonard, says it pretty well…

“The ability to be ignorant, to be unaware of the history and consequences of racial bigotry, to simply do as one pleases, is a quintessential element of privilege. The ability to disparage, to demonize, to ridicule, and to engage in racially hurtful practices from the comfort of one’s segregated neighborhoods and racially homogeneous schools reflects both privilege and power. The ability to blame others for being oversensitive, for playing the race card, or for making much ado about nothing are privileges codified structurally and culturally.”

Dr. Leonard’s quote…he’s talking about me circa 2009. He’s talking about my small, Wyoming community then…and now.

We need to do better.