Costumes Against Humanity

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Racism is a complex word to define.

We surveyed over 100 Wake Forest University students, asking them what one word or phrase came to mind in relation to racism. Many of the responses included buzzwords like “ignorance” and “prejudice”, but there was also a cultural divide regarding issues of color, as words like “n-word”, “white people”, and “black” also showed up.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 11.09.13 PMWake Forest University is mostly composed of Caucasian students, and there is a clear imbalance among different racial representations. Of the approximately 5,000 undergraduate students that attend Wake Forest, only a mere two percent are international, and 22% are of an ethnic minority, according to Forbes.

This leads to the questions of: What is racism? What is discrimination? Do these two always go hand in hand? Do these principles apply to everyone’s lives in some shape or form, regardless of color? What about at Wake, a place that many of us call home?

Racial issues and tensions have been exploding on campus this semester. The “Rap Video” party hosted by Kappa Alpha Order in September was among the first to cause controversy. While this party had been under scrutiny in the past, students on campus this year in particular seemed to take issue with the theme.

Although the party title in itself is not explicitly racist, some students on campus felt that this party may as well have been titled “Dress Like a Black Person” party. Others criticized the supposed sensitivity that these students had, arguing that there are both black and white rappers alike, that students could have dressed as.

In addition to “Rap Video”, on-campus parties at The Barn have been surrounded by much criticism. Many multi-cultural groups and Greek organizations on campus have, in the past, used the Barn as a party venue. The historically African-American fraternities, such as Kappa Alpha Psi, often host parties there, but have received much flack from campus police due to large numbers of partygoers.

There is generally a strong sense of community between African-American fraternities and sororities throughout their different chapters across the United States. Members in these organizations tend to travel more to other schools to socialize on the weekends, and, in Wake’s case, many members from the chapters at Winston-Salem State often add to the size. This increase has often lent itself to issues, such as fights in the past, causing campus police to have a large presence at the events.

Because the campus police show little to no involvement with risk management at other fraternity parties, naturally, the question arises: is this police presence warranted or is it another form of racism in that it implies that minorities are more likely to get into trouble?

One junior student* weighed in on the issue:

“Campus police have no choice but to keep an eye on these events as fights have broken out there in the past with individuals that don’t attend Wake, and issues have come up with non-registered cars coming on campus. It’s not racist; it’s a response to past problems and a step in the direction of protecting students more, especially in recent times when headlines like the murdered UVA student are across the papers and parents are concerned for their children’s safety.”

One prominent way in which dialogue about racism is sure to arise in the coming weeks is with regards to Halloween. It is no surprise that this popular holiday can transform from something fun to something offensive for many because of costumes that people choose to wear. Furthermore, the availability of such costumes in widely-known stores like Party City also aids in the potential to be offensive. A range of some of the more culturally-insensitive costumes is shown below.

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The gallery above shows that while some costumes, such as a Beer Girl or a Gangster Rapper, aren’t necessarily offensive, there is a range of cultural insensitivity which many people often fail to take into account.

When choosing a costume, Kat Lazo writes that it is important to bear in mind that we often do not see the implications of a costume as racist “because [those] implications don’t affect [us].”

That’s the key right there: doesn’t affect us. Costumes that push the envelope may seem harmless and fun, yet they can mean something entirely different to someone else, someone who relates to what you are depicting.

As Lazo puts it, “one cannot just borrow someone else’s culture or race for for a day.” Without understanding the historical context we cannot simply decide we have the background needed to dress up in a certain way.

We sat down with senior Heather Donelson to talk racism and Halloween. Here, she elaborates on this idea:

Continuing on the topic of these ideas of cultural appropriation and historical implications, Heather describes the matter in a very relatable, example heavy way. We also got junior Deborah Marke to say a few words about the topic as it pertains to Wake’s campus specifically and whether this notion applies:

Both of these students agreed that they would definitely say something to a friend if they thought a Halloween costume he/she was wearing was racist. While these two students would take an active stance, it is something to be mindful of regardless of whether one specifically would be compelled to say something to a peer.

Ultimately, the blurred lines surrounding this issue may be at the heart of the main problem. Thus, it is up to us to take into account the implications of our ideas before implementing them into action, even with ideas as simple as those that pertain to Halloween.

If you want to dress up as a taco this year, bring on the salsa. However, it is always important to bear in mind any cultural ties that your costume could hold that could be taken as offensive to someone.

* = name has been changed, or person interviewed requested to not be listed.
[crafted by Briana Vogel & Ashley Hamati]


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