Define before you assign.


A certain amount of evidence should be needed before you can call someone a racist. If you call someone a racist, and there is public consensus, then that person will likely be shunned or excommunicated. They could lose their job and credibility and so on. So, if labelling someone as a racist has real consequences, then it is important to know what the word means before it is used willy-nilly.

It could be a statement, joke, piece of artwork, policy, controversy, costume, etc. If it has any relation to race at all, there’s a chance for racist allegations. For example: you see a political cartoon and there are different races portrayed in it. Would it be racist to exaggerate the brightness or darkness of a character’s skin? If yes, then how many shades of exaggeration are necessary to qualify as racism? By this logic, it could be considered a form of racism when models on magazines have the shade of their skin electronically augmented. Models of every race have this done regularly and willfully.

Say in this hypothetical political cartoon that the artist emphasizes features of the characters that could be associated with stereotypes of the race in question. If, for example, he draws a character with big lips when the person actually has big lips in real life, were his intentions racist? He or she may in fairness draw other characters with big ears or big noses who actually have those features in real life as well. Is it then up to us to decide which enlargements are racist because of which stereotypical association the artist may or may not have been trying to portray? It could simply be the artist’s style of drawing caricatures, or it could be that they are a racist and meant to emphasize the stereotypes. How are you supposed to know? Artistic intention may be too difficult to pinpoint, especially when looking for racist motivation.

Now to the issue of Halloween, what defines a costume as racist? Most costumes in question usually represent a stereotype of a country or culture, not a race. There is no outfit that could be equated to an entire race. Clothes are about culture. Therefore, a racially motivated costume would be something like “black face” or “white face”. It is impossible to see 1920’s “black face” as anything but blatantly racist. Even then, though, when you see black celebrities such as Dwayne Wade and Nick Cannon put on “white face” for Halloween and receive no criticism for it, questions begin to arise; are they both racist? Are neither of them racist? This double standard of acceptance makes it difficult to get to the truth of the matter.

As far as “cultural appropriation” goes, although as I said earlier it is not really about race, it is still relevant enough that it should be clarified. If all cultures can be “appropriated”, which should be the standard, then it would be fair to say that wearing a Moroccan outfit as a costume would be the same as wearing a Scottish outfit as a costume. It would also be fair to say that a Scottish person wearing this Moroccan outfit would be the same as a Moroccan person wearing a Scottish outfit. Any kind of person (Mexican, Persian, Russian, Zimbabwean, etc.) can wear these outfits as costumes and be equally offensive in doing so. No person is inherently more offensive or less offensive than another. The appropriation of one culture is not inherently more offensive or less offensive than the appropriation of another. So then the issue comes down to how the costume is presented. Is it in good taste or bad taste? Who gets to judge this “taste”? How are they supposed to know the intentions of the costume-wearer? So on and so forth until we’re back full circle to agnosticism.

Be careful and sure before you label anyone or anything as racist. It is a powerful word. Every time you criticize somebody, you are acting as their judge and jury. Do some serious thinking about labels. No one wants to be labelled incorrectly, and although the person may be ignorant, they are not necessarily racist. In turn, to avoid being called racist, it may be a good idea to steer clear when possible of statements or otherwise that may be misconstrued.