Dear Straight Talk: I'm in college and my very nice roommates are talking about dressing up as Muslims for Halloween. One, who is buff, is even talking about putting on blackface and going as Muhammad Ali. I think both the blackface and dressing in turbans are bad ideas. They say I'm being too "politically correct." What do you think? It's so easy for girls to just wear a sexy outfit, but much harder for guys to come up with a creative costume. Any suggestions? Also, do I go out with them dressed this way? They are my best friends here. — Sam, Boston, Mass.
Omari, 19, Washington, D.C.: Dressing up as another culture as a mockery is disrespectful. However, dressing as a famous Muslim is respectable and unique. But I guarantee that no one with common sense will find blackface funny, creative, or cute. Nor is it necessary for the costume. As a black man in America, I can speak to how disrespected I felt when I read this. If you are comfortable in public with people so blatantly disrespectful, then by all means, have fun with your "nice roommates."
Brie, 21, Santa Barbara, Calif.: Did your roommates not see the extreme backlash when Vogue printed blackface models in 2009? I know it's harder to find costumes for guys, but there are plenty of options. A friend was Big Bird last year, which was really funny, and another was a sailor. Girls love a guy in uniform, even a costume.
Katelyn, 17, Azusa, Calif.: Dressing as a Muslim is culturally offensive. You risk setting off both extremist Muslims and prejudiced psychopaths who think you are Muslim. Stick with ancient cultures such as Greek, Roman or Egyptian.
You think it's "so easy" for girls to dress up, but for those who want to avoid the slutty look, or be creative, it's just as challenging. My friends and I usually cosplay [short for costume-play] characters from books, movies and games.
Colin, 19, Los Angeles: That is certainly offensive. And it's a free country — thus your choice if you want to associate with people who denigrate another culture. Better costume suggestions: political personality, cop, foreclosure agent, Dexter Morgan. Or wear gas mask, toga, pajamas, etc.
Brandon, 20, Mapleton, Maine: Halloween is a fun time to take on another persona, but don't abuse your First Amendment rights by insulting others. Many Muslims find poking fun at their culture extremely offensive. You and your friends could be risking your necks. And your reputations. Here in rural Maine, there are no Muslims, but running around in turbans can still piss people off. Four years ago, a local elected official did a parody of an Iraqi for some laughs. He was shunned from politics and to this day is called "un American" and much worse.
Yes, it can suck finding costumes for guys (trust me, I've alternated the same two for a decade). And yes, you are being PC — and that's good, because your future is affected by every little thing you do (it's a horrible realization), and you definitely need to care about being appropriate. If you're having bad feelings about the costumes, go with your gut feeling.
Dear Sam: Your friends need to wake up and smell the multiculturalism. Not to mention the news. Are they unaware that Americans were recently killed over offending Muslims? In terms of blackface, no, no and no. Even the eight-year-old white boy who loved Martin Luther King and dressed up like him to give his report last May in Colorado was sent home because of the blackface. Blackface to most African Americans is as insulting as the N-word. If your friends won't listen to this, you've educated other readers, so I'm glad you wrote. —Lauren
More from Lauren Forcella:
We're in this game together: all colors, creeds, and characters. To move evolution forward, we each need to strive for a core ethic of non-violation, and this must include passive-violation, which many "culture costumes" involve.
My favorite ethic for living, gleaned from the movie, "Thrive," is the liberty perspective: "In a thriving society no one is allowed to violate anyone else except in self-defense." This ethic requires us to become aware of and sensitive to the world around us so we don't violate others inadvertently. As I said earlier, wake up and smell the multiculturalism. Ignorance is no excuse for violating others. If you're napping, I hope you have friends like Sam who aren't.
This ethic also works for your own good. Anything you do today, yes, even as a drunk, high, or still-in-the-bubble college student, can be photographed or taped and made public throughout your life. Nothing is guaranteed private anymore. (The golden lining on that cloud is that people behave better when they have to be accountable.) Like Brandon says, "... you definitely need to care about being appropriate." —Lauren
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Copyright 2012, Lauren Forcella
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