Using marginalized cultures for costumes perpetuates racial stereotypes
Earlier this week, Megyn Kelly, the host of “Megyn Kelly Today” on NBC, defended blackface during a conversation about Halloween costumes, claiming that it wasn’t racist. Kelly justified blackface by saying that, when she was a child, “that was okay, as long as you were dressing up as a character.” Yet, the history of blackface is deeply rooted in racism.
Blackface in America began as a form of theatrical makeup used by non-black performers in minstrel shows, which relied on racial stereotypes of African Americans and African American culture to entertain white audiences. Performers in blackface became caricatures of African Americans, dehumanizing them for comic effect. This practice was widespread until the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Blackface was never okay and has always been a way for white people to mock a person of color’s identity.
Megyn Kelly, a white woman in a position of influence and privilege, shouldn’t be the arbiter of what is or isn’t racially offensive. By excusing the practice of blackface and cultural appropriation, Kelly lends her hand to the process of “othering” black people and has hurt and offended millions of Americans.
Despite rumors about contract negotiations, no one has yet to officially confirm Megyn Kelly’s departure from NBC. The Editorial Board encourages NBC to take a strong stand against her comments.
Kelly’s comments are not an isolated incident. In Oct. 2015, members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at UCLA hosted a “Kanye Western” themed party, in which women of the exchanging sorority, Alpha Phi, donned blackface in order to dress as the rapper Kanye West and exhibited racial stereotypes through their costumes. Earlier this year in April, members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, posted photos of themselves throwing gang signs with one member in blackface. The California Attorney General stated that the actions of the fraternity members were protected by the First Amendment, but this does not excuse the inherently racist and hurtful practice of cultural appropriation.
With Halloween approaching, it’s important to remember to not pick a costume that disenfranchises minorities and appropriates different cultures. When minority cultures and cultures of color are co-opted and turned into cheap costumes, it erases both the value and identity of millions of people, as well as hundreds of years of oppression and marginalization. When members of marginalized communities still face discrimination for their cultures, traditional garb or hairstyles, any appropriation of that culture is a direct affront to the struggles that minorities have faced and continue to face every day in America.
There is no excuse for continuing to perpetuate racial stereotypes about black people and other marginalized communities. Appropriating a culture for the sake of a Halloween costume is unequivocally racist. Don’t do it.
Written by: The Editorial Board