Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Is it "Racist" or "Color-Aroused" to Wear Black Face-Paint to a Halloween Party?

Reprinted from the Backyard Beacon, with AMJCA commentary below.

“Is it ever ok to wear black paint on your white face?” IvyGate, the Ivy League blog, asks.


Perhaps Chappelle’s Show DVD box set requires more than a Parental Advisory warning label.

According to the captions that accompanied photos on his personal Web site, a Princeton freshman and his three friends “went as ‘a shadow/rick james,’ while his friends were supposed to be Malcolm X, Nat Turner and Rosa Parks …” The Daily Princetonian writes.

Now a junior and a presidential candidate, Josh Weinstein ‘09 says that “the references to African American civil rights activists and the Dave Chappelle parody of entertainer Rick James were ‘attempts at humor,’ and apologized to any students who were offended.”

The pictures, “which depict Halloween festivities, were posted by Weinstein on his personal Web site in the fall semester of his freshman year. An anonymous student apparently saved copies of the photos, which Weinstein later deleted from his site, and submitted them last week to IvyGate, ” the student newspaper says.

Although Weinstein insists that he had “no racist intentions,” the Black Student Union (BSU) held an impromptu forum with Weinstein, his fellow presidential candidate Sarah Langberg ‘09, and BSU members Sunday.

Concerned students say that Weinstein’s inability to take responsibility for his actions indicates that he may be unable to represent racial minorities if elected.

“A visibly distraught Weinstein apologized profusely and made efforts to explain his actions. ‘I did not go in blackface — I went in black face-paint,’ Weinstein said. ‘I would never have put the two words together, but I crossed the line,’” The Daily Princetonian reports.

AMJCA Commentary:

This case provides a perfect example of why the term "color-aroused" is preferable to the term “racist”. If you ask whether it is “racist” to paint your face Black and go to a party as “Nat Turner”, you immediately run into innumerable and subjective definitions of what “racism” is and what constitutes “racism”.

However, if you ask whether the students’ behavior was color-aroused, it is clear that it was. They themselves acknowledged that their behavior was focused on skin color, so it is skin color aroused.

Now, ask yourself whether this behavior is "benign," "mildly dysfunctional," "moderately dysfunctional" or "extremely dysfunctional" for this student. In this case, it would clearly seem that engaging in an act which others perceive to be extremely insensitive to the community has endangered this student’s election to student body president; hurt his reputation and employability in some sectors; and made him virtually unelectable to elective government office in many places. His behavior, if continued, certainly would limit his potential social network, employment and economic opportunities and even family choices.

This behavior could make his school and his employers liable in actions for discrimination if they are found to have tolerated or encouraged him in committing acts of discrimination and/or creating a hostile atmosphere.

If you want to know if this behavior was dysfunctional for this student, ask yourself if you would advise him to engage in the same behavior again, in light of all that has happened to him since his first try and in light of all that could happen to him in the future. Is this optimal behavior? If it is dysfunctional behavior then he should change his course before it destroys him, his family, his community, his school and his future employers.

With so much at risk because of color-aroused behavior, does it really matter if the behavior is “racist” or not?