No Seriously, Put That Mask Down

It all started with this link about a campaign against ethnic costumes for Halloween, entitled “We’re a Culture, not a Costume.” The subtitle line reads, “This is NOT who I am and this is NOT okay.” You can see the one on the left and they have variations including a Native American, Latino, African American, and a Muslim holding up pictures of others dressing up as their ethnicity/culture for Halloween.

I posted the link to my Facebook page on Halloween day. No second thought, no real hitch in my giddy up, no undies in a wad, nothing. Just posted it. Thought it was great. It makes perfect sense to me.

And then a very thoughtful fellow Asian American female blogger, Letitia Wong, throws out this question, “why isn’t there a poster of a young man with a photo of a white redneck costume?”

And what ensued is an intense dialogue on my Facebook wall about reverse discrimination, whether white privilege / power is real or contrived, and who’s pulling what speck/plank out of whose eye. Here’s a brief snippet:

David Park Ah I see. But my point is that no redneck has ever been lynched and hung from a tree or had to march for civil rights. No redneck community that I’ve heard of has ever been quarantined for fear of a contagion or had to walk a trail of tears. So it doesn’t quite have the gut punch of categorical mockery to dress up as a white redneck. Does it?

Letitia Wong Of course when people (doesn’t matter what color) dress up as rednecks, it’s racist. It’s as racist as much as any of the posters claim racial insensitivity. Redneck ridicule just happens to be politically acceptable as much as it used to be acceptable to dress in black face and Charlie Chan. Reverse discrimination is just discrimination. As Chistians, helping people to move forward means at the very least putting racist sentiments behind us as relics of the past. Turning around and reliving a pain that for the most part most young people don’t experience (except that we tell them) is just going backwards. I could gripe about the fact that the first racial piece of legislation passed by Congress was to bar immigration of additional Chinese into the country, but what good would that really do to try to be angry at dead people and take revenge on the living? Why should I be offended at that? It is something that happened in the past, and the legislation was overturned. Why should I hold a grudge against people for something that never happened to me but that I identify with only as far as my skin color and race?I’ve heard some pretty insensitive things said about me and my race over my lifetime. Some of it was said in malice, but most was said in ignorance. I don’t think punishing people with political correctness and a false sense of shame (when a costume is just a costume for fun) necessarily has a positive impact when the posters broadbrush and say that any culturally-connected costume is racial insensitivity. If that is what they are going for, then I want to see the admonishment against Redneck costumes as well.
David Park Racial tension is not simply a matter what the other thinks of me. That does not account for the systemic nature of the imbalance of power and its abuse. That is reality. It defines reality. Think about it, this whole poster campaign is trying to bring dignity to cultures as opposed to intentionally or ignorantly put on another’s garb. But if a black person were to dress as a redneck, he would not project a mockery of rednecks rather he would convey at some level self hatred. If a native American dresses like a cowboy there is a sense of irony so great as to be absurd to his peers. That is why minorities don’t exhibit the problem that this campaign is addressing. That is the simple reason why this is not a matter of political correctness or reverse discrimination, the only people group that lacks the wherewithal to don some other culture’s costume on a day that kids become something grossly other, are people who are so privileged and entitled as to have never given thought to how to give other cultures dignity. Do they do so with malicious intent? Probably not but the problem is twofold: it perpetuates the ignorance and insensitivity of the offender; and secondly it makes the offended either internalize the message that they don’t deserve dignity or something we see in the Asian community a lot is a wholesale emulation of the majority. And we have the eyelid surgeries, the skin bleaching, the colored contacts, the nose surgeries, the bamboo ceilings, the rapid assimilation to prove that. It’s not just worrying about what the other person thinks of me, it’s far more real than that. You are right to say what freedom in Christ really is but we also know that God created the ethnos, the peoples of the world. So at the same time we are free from others expectations we also seek God’s intent for our race and ethnicity knowing that those dimensions can carry great missional potential in scripture. I agree we shouldn’t make idols out of it but neither do I think we should God is synonymous with the white American dominant majority.

Letitia Wong
 I think the term you are dancing around is “white power.” While I acknowlege that idea certainly exists, I disagree that we have a systemic imbalance of power that is designed to favor white people in this country. Our litigous society opens up many forms of power, and people use it well, so I can’t agree with the paradigm that our country continues to subsist on white priviledge. That unfairly prejudices all non-whites toward whites and *causes much of the tension, which is frankly more of the same problem that exists in the first place. In my experience, white people in general aren’t racists, and it is unfair to make them out to be.

When Jesus was talking about the kind of faith to move mountains, He wasn’t talking about mountains–he was talking about an entire paradigm shift that encompasses the powers that be. We cannot continue to ascribe racism to a group of people just because they are white anymore than we can say all Asians are nerds.

I stick to my statement that racial tension exists more in the mind as much as beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think if society were to ever achieve racial reconciliation, you have to first agree that such a thing is possible and then achieve it by changing your own *mindset (the plank before the speck) before the mindset of others. Without doing so, the perceived solutions will always be about power, and someone will always see an imbalance. Our society will be then locked in racial tension forever. When solutions are about our createdness, then we can talk about sin and true reconciliation. This is a problem that is only as deep as we make it.

I asked the question about excluding a “redneck” costume from the poster campaign. The answer I received was just as negative as the negative stereotypes the campaign opposes, and therein lies the problem. We all fall short.

Now if I take a step back from this tit-for-tat, I love how different perspectives are coming out that I had not heard before. We are both children of Asian immigrants, followers of Jesus Christ, and seeking deep racial reconciliation, but man, we can really look at Halloween costumes differently, can’t we? The challenge for us as reconcilers is to make sure that reconciliation is both the process and the destination. I am both part of the problem and part of the solution. My instincts are to absolve myself of any blame, and belittle the other or self-aggrandize, but the power of the gospel is to say, yes, I am part of the brokenness. Yes, I own that sin. Yes, I have racist tendencies and I am skeptical of those in power; but I am dying everyday to myself in Christ in order that there may be a new creation, so that I might know him in the power of his resurrection. By the way, death of the ego, even mild paper cuts to the ego, are incredibly painful so if you’re not comfortable in the process of reconciliation (even in a simple Facebook conversation), you’re probably doing it right.

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come. View all posts by David Park

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