Hopefully Halloween passed without any of you making a costume choice that ruined your life. I’m not just talking about going to the neighborhood party as a slutty pirate and getting caught being a bit too free with the “pirate’s booty.”
In Decatur, Alabama, last week a scandal erupted when elementary school teacher Heath Morrow and his wife, Shannon, decided to go to a party dressed as singer Kanye West and his bootylicious wife, Kim Kardashian. While Shannon appropriately stuffed her pants to imitate Kim’s famed posterior and wore a low-cut dress, the problem came from Heath’s side of the deal. He unfortunately painted himself black to portray the African-American West.
Cue the Facebook pics, a news story on al.com and the subsequent outrage and calls for the guy to be fired from his job. This story went so “viral” it now fills nearly as many pages of Google as a search on cancer treatments might. Great Britain is apparently so boring their newspapers even covered this important story. One sports-centric website made its angle that Heath is a Bama fan and Shannon is hot. On almost all of these sites are tons and tons of comments from people calling for Morrow’s firing, declaring him a racist idiot, denigrating Alabama and letting us all know they personally “could care less” about people’s race.
If ignorance is bliss, the comment sections on almost any web story must be heaven. But I digress.
The incident brought discussions to our own office, where some argued the guy made a practically unforgivable mistake. My own feeling is Morrow wasn’t dressed as Little Black Sambo or a character in a minstrel show, and didn’t appear to be trying to denigrate anyone. If anything he was probably just trying to make his hot wife happy because she wanted to dress like a Kardashian.
It all just seemed to me like an attempt to have a funny costume where everyone would say, “Did you see Heath? He looks so ridiculous it’s funny. But Shannon looks great!” Just a guess. Most married guys know when it comes to the wife picking a couple’s costume, the guy ends up looking dumb while the woman looks fabulous.
Of course not being African-American, I could be missing why it’s so upsetting to have a white dude paint his skin in order to portray a black celebrity at Halloween. That’s why in the future I would suggest any topical Halloween costumes worn by whites trying to portray blacks should simply be a note card with the celebrity’s name on it pinned to a plain white T-shirt. Best to avoid any possibility of being called a racist.
Fortunately for Morrow, his principal resisted the calls for termination and backed his teacher, saying the guy does a good job with his students. Heath, for his part, wrote a letter profoundly apologizing for his faux pas and Shannon gave a statement to the media declaring some of Heath’s best friends are black — the last bastion of hope for any white person trying to prove he or she couldn’t possibly be racist.
Saying we live in tense times racially is about as massive an understatement as saying I’m a little tired of Peyton Manning’s Nationwide commercials. Sing along with me — This commercial’s getting old.
Crying racism these days is a bigger sport than ever. It certainly seems the racial divide is expanding all the time. Most of my black friends feel that way (#coveringmyass).
As a white guy, I’m not alone in feeling President Barack Obama has done a lot to foment racial division by constantly commenting on local police issues involving white cops and black suspects before anyone has the facts. It likely helped fuel the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore. His comments are often so far below what should be on the presidential plate I’m kind of surprised he didn’t chime in about Heath Morrow’s Halloween costume.
At the same time, Obama’s presidency has jacked up the rhetoric from hard-core racists across the country and probably even brought a few more out of the woodwork. The vitriol some express toward Obama often seems a lot more personal than the usual trashing every president gets.
But the rhetoric on both sides is generally pretty harsh, and the margin for error so slim, whether we’re talking about Halloween costumes or something more serious.
Take what happened last week at a meeting put on by the 100 Black Men of Greater Mobile, with the topic being whether the school systems are failing black children. The gathering took place at the Alabama School of Math and Science and featured a very esteemed panel discussing issues affecting black youth and why as a group they are having a more difficult time achieving.
The panel discussed meaty issues such as whether charter schools would help or hurt efforts to improve the educational levels of black students in our area, or how having more qualified black teachers might help keep students interested. During the discussion, one of the panelists talked about how unfair it is that black children have to learn a white-centric history — one, for instance, where they learn about George Washington, but don’t learn that he owned slaves.
Many in the crowd applauded those remarks and a local attorney even tweeted comments about having to uproot the “white supremacy” behind the current curriculum before black students are going to succeed.
I can certainly understand why it makes sense to have a more inclusive curriculum when it comes to teaching history and other more subjective courses, but what’s being added to the conversation when charges of white supremacy are introduced? Probably not much. But there also wasn’t any public outcry, and that’s OK.
It’s impossible to imagine us moving past this hyper-sensitive era without everyone letting some things slide. Do Heath Morrow and his wife deserve to have hundreds of web posts forever associating their names with “racist” behavior because of a dumb Halloween costume? Seems like a heck of a punishment to me.
Does an evening of intelligent discussion deserve to be undermined by one “insensitive” comment? No.
At some point we all just need to get over being easily offended by any reminder of our ancestors’ behavior if we’re ever going to make progress. Save the outrage for those dumb commercials and put at least five minutes of thought into your Halloween costume.