It’s been interesting watch the dialog about ethnic Halloween costumes go by on my Facebook page. It has ranged from a Chinese-American friend posting a picture of a “Chinese” costume that featured yellow face paint (Really? Have you ever seen a Chinese person who was actually yellow?) to a friend who was genuinely bewildered that people were offended by a group of university administrators dressed up as “Mexicans” in sombreros and fake mustaches. That post with the sombreros inspired a bunch of comments about how wrong it is to be offended by people who do not have bad intentions, and how bothered people are by “PC” culture.
Since my response is too long to stick in a comment on someone else’s Facebook page, let me put it here. You do not have to have bad intentions to do something that’s racist. When you, all in good fun, attach a bunch of stereotypes to group of people, and then appropriate those stereotypes for your own amusement, that is a racist act. You know how you know that it’s a racist act? When the real people associated with the stereotypes tell you that they are hurt.
“But they shouldn’t be offended! We never meant to hurt anyone! Those people are just too touchy!” comes the inevitable reply. And you know what I hear? I hear my ex saying, after I discovered the affair, “but I never meant to hurt you!” Which is the exact same thing my ex said after I discovered six months later that the affair which supposedly had ended had just kept going. “I never meant to hurt you.” You know what? Not intending to hurt someone is not an adequate standard of behavior. If you do something, and people are hurt by it, and tell you that they are hurt, maybe they are not too easily offended. Maybe you are doing something hurtful.
Maybe it’s time to listen to the people who are getting run over. Maybe “I never meant to hurt you” isn’t good enough. Maybe we should start trying to actually not hurt people.