Back in 2007, when I worked in a different industry, a former client invited me to a Halloween party. I wasn't able to make it, as I was down with the flu. When I was well enough to go back to work and declutter my email, I noticed he'd sent me a message with attachments. He said he hoped I was feeling better, and if not, maybe I'd get a laugh out of pictures from the party. I opened the attachment, grateful he'd thought of me. The first picture was him in an orange prison jumpsuit, with a long fake scar on his cheek. I chuckled; this was a guy who worked a security job and hoped to become a police officer one day.
The next picture hit me like a slap in the face. There was another white guy in the photo, in the most offensive blackface costume I'd seen up to that point. He'd painted his face black, folded tinfoil over his teeth to look like a grill, and put on a fake afro wig under a Raiders cap. He'd bent my client over a kitchen island to simulate prison rape, holding a fake gun to the back of his head. I never responded to that e-mail, and less than a month later, I changed jobs for unrelated reasons. I sometimes wonder (and worry) if my client ever did become a police officer.
Eight years later, as is usual for this time of year, white people find themselves confounded that dressing in blackface, redface, and other racially offensive Halloween costumes is a problem. So, like so many others before me, I began writing this piece with the intention to explain why it's not OK to appropriate people's skin colour and culture for laughs. Why it's inappropriate, for example, for a fifth grade teacher in the American south to paint his face and hands, put on a Kanye West costume, and act surprised when the internet reacts. I got two sentences in, before I realized something, and backspaced over everything I'd written. Writing that plea would be as fruitful as trying to shout back the tides, because it's not a plea to reasonable people. Halloween no longer belongs to reasonable people.
So, fuck it: I'm giving up. If racists are this hell-bent on ruining Halloween, and racism-enablers are this hell-bent on excusing them, they can keep it.
We know the routine by heart. By the third week of October, some supposedly clueless chumps show up to frat parties, community events, and sometimes to public schools. Occasionally they win costume contests. The pictures inevitably migrate to Black Twitter, and those chumps become the epicentre of that year's shitstorm. After the outrage comes the standard non-apology apology. Take the words "not my intention to offend," "colour-blind," "some of my best friends," "harmless joke," throw them in a bag, add a few prepositions, shake them up, pour them out. After the anger burns itself out, everything begins to return to normal. We get a few thinkpieces and PSAs, and then we hunker down and wait to have this talk again next year.
I recently spoke with an acquaintance, Rad Dockery, who was the first to tweet that infamous picture of former Mayfield vice principal Lionel Klotz. You might remember that school administrator whose livelihood was very much in question when his picture showed up in the Toronto Star. You may not know that Rad received the picture from another school board employee who was afraid to speak up, or that an online mob came to collect Rad's scalp.
At first, it was the deluge of threats and insults after his comments on City News. When that failed to shut him up, they decided to find out who cuts his cheques. It wasn't difficult, given his unique name, his open LinkedIn profile, and his employment in the public sector. Lionel Klotz is still employed as a vice-principal for the Peel District School Board, but Rad works for himself now.
Another friend of mine put it to me this way: "Remember that movie The Purge? Well consider Halloween The Purge for racists." And she's right. Every racist joke that went untold during the rest of the year, every argument that wasn't had over the shooting of Trayvon Martin, or Ray Rice knocking out his wife in an elevator, or the name of Washington's football team, all of that pent-up racial resentment is vomited into the public sphere when Halloween comes around. By now, we can safely say white people wearing racist costumes have passed the borders of "insensitive humour" and cruised right on through "attention-seeking racial aggrievement."
So screw it. I'm leaving the porch light off. I'm not taking invitations to Halloween parties unless I know and trust the hosts. If I had children, I sure as hell would not chance them knocking on the door of some jovial couple painted up for a good laugh. Take this one day of the year, wrap it up in the rebel flag, and put a nice little bow on it. Enjoy Halloween, racists. It's all yours.
Follow Andray Domise on Twitter.