My, I haven’t said anything here in a while, have I?
I’ve been seeing a lot out there in the intertubes about racist Halloween costumes, this year. Now, there are some that simply stagger the mind out there (I will not be linking to the trio who decided that it was in good taste to dress up a white guy in blackface as Treyvon Martin, and have him go around with someone meant to represent George Zimmerman, but if you want to throw up in your mouth a little, you know where the search button is on your browser).
It occurrs to me that there’s something important about this issue that’s unique to Second Life, and which is easy to skip out on, and well… you may not want to skip on it. I’ll get there in a bit, but first:
Everyone’s a little bit racist.
Now note, that’s not an apology for it. We all do swim in a milieu in which snap judgements happen, every day of our lives. At the same time, there are ways you might give voice to those thoughts in one group of company that you wouldn’t voice them in a different group. You wouldn’t turn up at the synagogue and blithely say ‘Well you know, Josh’s mom is a nagging harridan, but she’s Jewish, I guess it’s just her culture’, right? Or you wouldn’t say ‘Washington’s really into rap and I’m not, but that makes sense: he’s black’ to someone African-American.
Here comes the sticky wicket now.
On Second Life, what do you actually know about the person on the other end of the keyboard? If you’ve used SL Voice together you probably know gender, but do you know if Monty Hightower’s a black woman in addition to being female? Do you know if Monty’s typist is Chinese-Canadian? Not unless Monty’s typist has shown you a photograph.
Are you seeing where I’m going here? The tricky bit about doing something that’s a racial stereotype as your halloween costume is the audience. If a black guy comes up and says ‘hey dude, seriously…’ about your Django Unchained costume, you might stammer, but at the same time you at least know that he’s got a ground for his opinion. You might have also done your best to stay out of the guy’s hair.
Can you do that if you have no idea the guy’s black?
You may have noticed (I certainly have) that there’s more than a little bit of whitewashing to what’s available for avatar appearance in SL. Not so many choices for skin if you want your avatar to look like his forebears came from Nigeria. A little harder to properly trick yourself out as a samurai than as a German landsknecht. So, what can you do?
I’d advise thinking long and hard before you go out in a costume to the club in SL. Is this costume potentially going to offend someone? Do you have a cultural right to it that you’re willing to defend (maybe you don’t feel like telling everyone about your Cherokee heritage on SL. That’s obviously your right!)
Am I engaging in cultural APPRECIATION here, or is it just a white boy dressed up in the ceremonial garb of a people who have dealt with centuries of horror at the hands of other white boys?
My point is, just take a moment, stop and think. Don’t be That Guy.
There’s a really good post I found about what is or is not appropriate (which is a First People author, speaking to other First People), which is a very effective way to discuss the issue with yourself. Here ya go! It’s a very good read, and a lot of what’s in it can be stretched out to cover other costumes you might think are ‘fun’ that others might just facepalm over so hard their hand comes out the back of their head.
So, take a peek in the mirror and a moment to reflect before you go out to the party! And most tellingly, remember: “…racist thought and action says far more about the person they come from than the person they are directed at.” ― Chris Crutcher, Whale Talk