"Dear White People," Stereotypical Costumes Are Not OK

By Kate Mueller on October 13, 2014

America doesn’t have a race issue anymore. We have a black president. We listen to rap music. Our favorite athletes are black. Hell, even Justin Timberlake won a BET award. It’s like we’re one big happy family.

image via Sundance Film Festival

Satire (n): the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

It’s funny to think that there are people who believe America is over the race issues, but it’s sad to think that we finally might have gotten a wake-up call after several black teenagers were killed because of the color of their skin.

The problems lie in the fact that stereotyping and pigeonholing are still being ignored and, well, to most, ignorance is still considered bliss. That’s where Sam White, of Winchester University, comes in with her “Dear White People” segment:

“Dear White People” is a satire (see definition above) that blatantly discusses the issues of race and identity in the Obama age. The director, Justin Simien, was inspired by Spike Lee, but he makes a unique film all to his own. It was the winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance this year.

“The truth is, my film really isn’t about “white racism” or racism at all. As I see it racism is systemic and is inherently reflected in any honest story about life as a minority in this country. What my film is about however is identity. It’s about the difference between how the mass culture responds to a person because of their race and who they understand themselves to truly be.”
Simien said in an article for Huffington Post. 

The film follows a group of black students in a predominately white school. Through different situations, each person questions their identity and what it means to be black.

But tensions rise even further when white students decide to throw an “East Vs. West Hip-Hop” themed party. These kinds of parties actually happen more often than you think, especially in college. If you can’t already imagine the terrible costumes and ideas, here’s a better look:

Here are some real life situations from just two universities in one city: Tallahassee, Florida. Florida A&M, better known as FAMU, is a HBCU (Historically Black College-University) and has a 94 percent black student body, while Florida State, or FSU, is a research university with a 67 percent white student body.

Now, the comments below are just a few examples that have stood out of things that I’VE personally heard within the last couple years. (No these comments do NOT reflect all FSU students and I love being a Seminole. It just so happens we have a few ‘closet racists,’ as I like to call them.)

+A white FSU student leaves for the weekend of FAMU Homecoming because “it’s the most dangerous weekend of the year.

+A white FSU student hears news of a shooting that occurred and murmurs “psh, of course” when its location was a couple miles off FAMU campus.

+A white FSU student posts a video on Vine of black students in the union with the caption, “Welcome to FAMU…I mean FSU #monkeyseverywhere.”

+A black male is seen wearing FSU sweats and gets the reaction, “you must play football for the team.”

“I think it is difficult for the millennial generation to talk about racism, because racism is not as overt as it once was. There really aren’t lynch mobs. Racism, more or less, comes in the form of these little micro-aggressions.”
Simien said in a Q&A 

If you’re still not convinced about the issues of stereotyping, then here are some more stories that made national headlines:

image via NY Daily News

+McDaniel College, Westminster, Maryland – Hosted a party with the theme “BET vs. CMT Awards” where “one white female student donned an Afro wig, butt padding and a clingy dress during the event.”

+University of California San Diego – Held a “Compton Cookout” themed party “with guests invited to don gold teeth in the style of rappers from the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, eat watermelon, and dress in baggy athletic wear.” Oh, and on the Facebook page, the picture was a guy in an afro wig holding a bucket of KFC.

+Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire – Planned a “Bloods vs. Crips” party that turned into a “ghetto-theme.”

+University of California Irvine – Students made a parody video of “Suit & Tie” where one student dressed in blackface to portray Jay-Z.

+Arizona State University – For Martin Luther King Day, these students decided to throw a party where “they drank from watermelon cups, wore bandannas, and posed for pictures holding their crotches and forming gang signs with their hands.”

+And this list wouldn’t be complete without putting shame on my school’s arch nemesis – University of Florida, Gainesville – Students decided to dress (and post pictures) of themselves in blackface Halloween costumes in a “Rockstars vs. Rappers” themed party.

The fact that all of these stories have occurred in the last five years shows that this is an ongoing issue.

image via The Taylor Network

“Dear White People” is set in a college location for good reasons. As college kids, we no longer have to listen to our parents; we can form our own thoughts and figure out who we are, exactly what the characters in the movie are doing too.

This can be both positive and negative. If we choose to give in to the stereotypes, we are perpetuating issues that have been around since way before we were born.

The film is set to release in select theaters on October 17, but will be nationwide on October 24. This comes at a critical time – one week before Halloween.

Let this movie stand as a reminder to be conscious of the costumes and themes you select. Blackface is never acceptable. Stereotyping is not funny. Gold grills, diamond chains, baggy pants, bandannas, fitted hats, afros, big hoop earrings etc. do not represent black culture and that imagery needs to be stopped.

If you’re even questioning your costume idea, there’s plenty of time to change it. Yes, college is about having fun and the costumes may seem humorous to YOU, but think of who it affects. There are a million things you can be, so why pick something that would disrespect others?

PSA: The more you know … about black people

For more videos, go to DearWhitePeopleMovie.com.

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