Scaring up Political Correctness during Halloween – and beyond

“Officials at a Massachusetts college are investigating after students said a female soccer player attended an on-campus Halloween party with darkened skin to portray a character from the movie “White Chicks.” The Sun Chronicle reports a photo taken Friday shows the woman with her skin darkened by makeup, a drawn-on goatee and a bald cap.”

OK, so now we are going to police campuses for Halloween costume correctness? Don’t get me wrong, certain outfits worn at Halloween should be verboten. Blackface is not funny. But, dressing as a character from a movie? Really?

I realize now that I was on dangerous ground when I dressed as Michael Jackson from Thriller a few years back. While my attire and makeup were pretty zombie-like, was it correct to portray him shortly after his death … or at all? Honestly, I don’t know, especially since my dance moves may have been considered offensive.

I’ve seen and been involved in public relations nightmares more scary than Lon Chaney. And, yes, they involved everything from unintentional PC missteps to outright stupidity. People face similar risks when dressing up and acting like someone or something else. But is Halloween different? Should we be able to don crazy attire and act in uncommon ways? I think, yes.

To me, the title of the movie, White Chicks, is pretty offensive, as is dress or makeup with racial undertones intended to hurt and mock. But the question for me to consider, as a public relations person and college instructor, is simple: Did the student intentionally dress to incite others or make fun of someone’s race? I doubt it.

Let’s be real here. Administrators must protect equal rights and civil rights on their campuses. But this admonishment may be going a little far. Where do we draw the line on inexcusably offensive costumes? I saw a lot of Trumps around this scary season. Is it correct to mock the president of the United States? Almost certainly – people have adorned presidential attire and rubber faces forever. May someone dress up as a blind Ray Charles? Again, I don’t know. Is it inappropriate to dress up as Pocahontas? I’ve seen a lot of those over the years.

I am not suggesting the student was right. I am questioning whether her intent was racially motivated or an attempt at humor that went wrong given the heightened political correctness running rampant in the nation.

Halloween is supposed to be a time when people get dressed up and have fun. I (and a number of young children) have negative reactions to someone dressed up as a serial killer or Freddy Krueger. But at least I realize that Halloween is a time for a good scare.

Do we face our fears by dressing up as someone really horrible? This year, I dressed up as a law enforcement officer. Certainly in today’s environment, a lot of people see that as a flash point.

I hope the university sees fit to offer the student a break. Next year, maybe she should dress up as a soccer player.

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