Racial Insensitivity

I’m a 40 year old white heterosexual male, so maybe I don’t know anything about racial sensitivity, or gender equality, or any sort of equality.  I will never understand the struggles that non white heterosexual males have endured.

I’m not trying to be cheeky or sarcastic.  I’m trying to acknowledge right up front that the opinions I am about to express could be grounded in complete ignorance.

I don’t want to offend anyone.  I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable with who they are.  From the bottom of my heart, I want us to get along, appreciate our cultural differences, embrace some of those differences, and live with each other with love.  That may all sound like cliche tripe, but it’s how I legitimately feel.

While browsing some entertainment news, I read an article about Julianne Hough in black face, and how she should be ashamed and should apologize for insensitivity.  I was a little intrigued.  I thought, “What did she do?”

From what I can tell, she was dressing up as a character that she likes from Orange is the New Black.  I can’t see that she did or said anything.  She just… put on a costume?

I’ve always thought that racism was about intention.  I’ve always thought that it was okay to refer to someone’s distinguishing features, as long as it wasn’t to place unfair judgement or association of inferiority with those same features.  I think there’s a difference between saying, “A black man asked me for the time of day” and “Black men are too lazy to buy their own watches.”

Maybe someone will correct me and say that both example sentences are bad?  If that’s not a strawman argument, let me address it by asking: is it any worse than saying “A blonde man asked me for the time of day”?

If the color of our skin is truly as superficial as the color of our hair or eyes, then why can’t we use those descriptors equally?

If we’re allowed to use those descriptors equally, why can’t we use those descriptors physically?  I can dye my hair a different color for Halloween, but if I use make-up to color my skin, why am I racially insensitive?

Like I stated at the beginning: I probably don’t understand.

I know that the reverse of what Julianne Hough did seems to be acceptable.  That is, The Wayans made a movie called White Chicks and I don’t recall much stink about racial insensitivity surrounding that production.

In my opinion, intention should be a part of the discussion and consideration.  If Julianne Hough truly just wanted to celebrate a character and an actress by dressing up as her for Halloween, I think that should be okay, and she shouldn’t have to apologize for it.  If, on the other hand, she put on the outfit and started trying to act out offensive stereotypes, that would be a different story.

Speaking of acting out offensive stereotypes, let me link you an upworthy video where a woman is doing her best to point out the damages of donning racially offensive costumes for Halloween.

I appreciate the idea that we should try to be considerate of the history involved.  On the other hand, her delivery of the same message by putting on a blonde wig and acting out a blonde stereotype does not serve her cause.

Bear in mind… I’m not really that offended by the blonde stereotype portrayal.  I’m more offended by the hypocrisy.

But back to racial insensitivity…

I think insensitivity is actually closer to the answer.  Let me come at this from another angle…

While writing this post, I’ve done some brief research.  I read about Ted Danson going blackface to perform with or for Whoopi Goldberg.  I remember stuff about Al Jolson, and I read an interesting article asking whether or not Al Jolson was really racist for his performances.

I keep trying to find the root of the offense, and I’m just not grasping it.  As a white man, I wouldn’t have a problem with a black man putting on makeup to portray a white character.  It just wouldn’t bother me.  Why is the reverse offensive?

Is it because issues of race are still relevant in our country?  Is it because legal inequality wasn’t that long ago in our history?

How long does it take for us to no longer be sensitive to whatever it is we find offensive in costumes and makeup?