On Campus

This is what an offensive costume looks like

Legion KKK costume sparks memories of last year’s blackface controversy at U of T

A couple of geniuses decided to attend a Campbellford, Ontario, Royal Canadian Legion Halloween party this year dressed as a Klan member and slave. After allegedly sticking their fingers in electrical outlets and licking frozen telephone polls, the pair decided it would be a good idea for one man to don a Klu Klux Klan robe and lead around his partner—who would be in full blackface makeup—using a rope leash. Yes, Sonny and Cher costumes are apparently “out” in the Campbellford region this season.

As if the gag wasn’t enough on its own, the pair was awarded the top prize for best costume at the party. (I’m gonna go ahead and assume that the runners-up were something like a priest and a little boy duo, and a giant penis, respectively.) The celebration for the men ended, however, when the media caught wind of the unfortunate charade and the Ontario Provincial Police were brought in to investigate. The Legion and the individuals involved have since apologized.

So, does this debacle sound familliar to anyone?

Last year, a group of University of Toronto students caused a national stir when they dressed up as “The Jamaican Bobsled Team” from the movie Cool Runnings for a Halloween pub night. Four white students wore dark makeup and one black student wore white makeup to look like the characters they were supposedly portraying. The group won a “Costume of the Night” award, but again, their celebration was short-lived.

Soon after a local blog dropped the word “blackface,” the story appeared on national newscasts, in newspapers, and on the tip of many peoples’ tongues at the University of Toronto.  Several different groups at U of T requested apologies from the men themselves, as well as the colleges that hosted the event and awarded the prize. Students also held a public shaming town hall meeting to discuss the event, and word on campus was that a puppy cried well into the night for days following the incident.

Yes, the Jamaican Bobstead Team costume was an unfortunate choice that happened to offend some people. The students had probably never heard of the concept of blackface and were genuinely trying to look like ‘Sanka” and his pals without giving thought to the sociocultural implications. While ignorance is no excuse, of course, this more recent Campbellford costume controversy illustrates the difference between trying to resemble characters from a movie and making light of serious racial issues of yesterday and today. The former is more “teachable moment” than “disgusting display.” And as for the latter…

In any case, while dressing up as a character who happens to be black is not the same as dressing up as a “black character,” some would argue that neither case should be exonerated. Beyond that, others actually believe the issue could be criminal. Not just stupid, illegal! (Somewhere in the country, ears are perking up at Human Rights Tribunal headquarters.) Which leads me to wonder: was the OPP just out to lunch when the U of T students were knotting their dreds last year?

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