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Column: Focus On Motives, Not Appearance

Heights Columnist

Published: Sunday, November 4, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

“Hypersensitive” was the new buzzword on campus this past week.  Everyone seemed to have an opinion on the infamous opinions column.  Someone even came to my Mod’s Halloween party dressed as a WASP with an accompanying copy of last week’s Heights issue.  Though Halloweekend Part II is officially over, I can’t resist responding to the article and subsequent backlash.

Racism is not dead.  Despite numerous advances in the 20th century, perfect equality still remains unachieved.  I fully support efforts to confront genuine examples of discrimination.  What I object to is people hurling unfounded accusations of racism and other types of discrimination.  LeBron James’ Decision is a prime example.  Many prominent sportscasters and reporters asserted that the subsequent backlash was based on LeBron’s race.  I find this assertion to be overdramatic.  I am sure that there were a few bad apples who used hateful and racist language to criticize Lebron.  However, the vast majority of sports fans were angry because of his unbelievably egotistical decision to backstab his hometown team on primetime television.  It would not have mattered if LeBron was white or any other ethnicity; he made an appallingly arrogant decision that was rightfully criticized.  The Daily Show hilariously illustrated the consequence of this kind of hypersensitivity in a skit where Larry Wilmore attempted to play an actual race-card prop, only to find that it had been cancelled on suspicion of fraud.  By repeatedly crying wolf, our culture is in danger of sucking attention away from genuine examples of discrimination.

My opinion on offensive Halloween costumes focuses on the intent of the costume.  The use of blackface is a prime example. In the early 20th century an actor would smear his face with black makeup and impersonate an African-American person.  The intent behind this “Jim Crow” costume was unambiguously malicious. On the other hand, I cite the classic Chappelle’s Show skit starring Clayton Bigsby, a blind black white supremacist (yes you read that correctly).  The sketch is filled with racial epithets and Ku Klux Klan rhetoric.  However, Chappelle’s intent behind the sketch was to satirize the hypocrisy of white supremacist doctrine.  Thus I would not consider Chappelle’s character in this sketch offensive, since his motive was not malicious.  On a final note, the ethnicity of the people in these examples is irrelevant.  Ironically, many blackface actors in the Jim Crow south were actually African-Americans. To identify truly offensive costumes or dialogue, I look beyond the superficial qualities of the perpetrator and instead focus on underlying motives.

After reading the infamous Halloween article, I scanned for comments on The Heights’ website and Facebook.  I quickly spotted several comments directly attacking the author as a bigot or narrow-minded fool, as well as criticizing The Heights for daring to run such an article.  My message to these people is simple.  Get off your high horse.  Nobody cares how angry and self-righteous you felt after reading the article.  The world is full of genuinely horrific examples of discrimination.  If you truly wish to take a stand for equality and open-mindedness, then find an organization to channel your efforts.  Flaming a Heights columnist for posting her personal opinion accomplishes absolutely nothing in the war on discrimination.

The majority of comments on The Heights’ website, though, were not ad hominem attacks.  I found several thoughtful responses that critiqued the author’s specific arguments while respecting her overall opinion.  Reading these responses reminded me of the Ignite event last month, where several students courageously spoke frankly about diversity at BC.  These types of honest discussions about difficult issues make me proud to be a part of the BC community.


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