What a crazy forty-eight hours.
On Wednesday, I wrote a post for Thought Catalog entitled Are People Actually Upset Over Julianne Hough Dressing Up As A Black Woman For Halloween? Its aim was to call into question what I thought might be intentionally inflammatory news coverage of the dark makeup she wore, in an effort to increase network ratings, blog traffic, social media followers, what have you. The reason I felt this way was because the stories about it made such drastic leaps in their arguments against her costume, like comparing her to a white man who dressed up as a bleeding Trayvon Martin and accusing her of using Halloween as an excuse for hate, that it was hard to take them seriously. Since I also, perhaps naively, did not perceive what Hough was wearing to be blackface, but rather “a heavy spray tan” I legitimately thought the story was over blown. After speaking to a number of people about it, black friends included, who expressed they couldn’t be bothered to devote any energy to what an actress wore to a Halloween party, I wrote the article.
By the afternoon it had been picked up by Gawker and by the time I left work, I was fielding an onslaught of angry Tweets and a stream of internet fury. As it stands today, the article has been linked to as part of a “small but indignant chorus who can’t see what all the fuss is about” on bitchmagazine.org, and has generated over one thousand comments as well as a combined fifteen hundred likes, shares and tweets.
While these are no where near record breaking stats for an internet post, a popular feature on Buzzfeed can garner fifty thousand shares on a slow day, they were record breaking stats for me. I’ve never been faced with attention like this before and being that the majority of it was negative, it’s made me rethink my original question of are people actually upset?
Let’s start with the answer. Turns out they are. Some were so upset that they responded by calling me an idiot, an ignorant dipshit, an asshat, one person even said he hoped I “burned on the internet”. My personal favorite comes from Sean Brody who writes “I’m kinda disappointed that she doesn’t have a regular feature called Keepin’ It Rheel where she tells white people and black people to just get over shit and just deal, you know? Like her friends do.”
Touché Sean Brody, touché.
If anything, the intensity with which people responded made me think that perhaps the way in which I asked the question was inappropriate. I took an issue that is very sensitive to some and covered it in my signature cavalier tone, which I think was a major contributor to what made people so angry. The criticism I received the most was that I was ignorant. In this case, I’m going to have to plead guilty. I had no idea that my questioning the offensiveness of a white woman dressing up like a black woman for Halloween would cause such an uproar.
Now, I’m not a complete idiot. I know that blackface is offensive. But what I understood to be blackface was specific to a practice in which white actors after the Civil War, used greasepaint to exaggerate black features and then behaved on stage in a way that made black people out to be caricatures. I also know that if someone dressed up like that today, it would be a dick move, because to trivialize what black people did, and still do go through, by turning their history into a Halloween costume is fucked up. That is not what I saw Hough doing though. I saw her dressed up as a character from her favorite internet show. However, I have since learned that many people consider ANY darkening of one’s skin to portray a person of color, a close enough reminder of that horrible history, that one commentator described seeing it as like being “kicked in the gut.”
For me, that’s a good enough reason not to do it.
But I wouldn’t know this, had I not asked the question in the first place. Many people were appalled simply by the fact that I was a white person writing about blackface. One commentator told me that after I stated “I am in fact, a white person. I’m not trying to pretend like I know what it is to be black in America and have to deal with a bunch of ignorant white nonsense on a regular basis…” I should have just stopped there. But if I had just stopped there, I would still be of the opinion that what Julianne Hough did was not a big deal. So I think we have to be able to, at the very least, have conversations about touchy subjects or they’ll never be resolved.
I also think those conversations need to be approached in a thoughtful manner. Even though I can now see what Hough wore for Halloween was insensitive, I don’t think it was her intention to “marginalize a minority” as one blogger stated or express her “deep-seated belief” that white people are of intrinsically higher value than those of color, as another proclaimed. When writers make intentionally incendiary statements just for the sake of being righteous, you end up with idiots like me going “are they serious?” with an “everyone just needs to calm the fuck down” type attitude. Unless they actually did believe that Hough was intentionally out to hurt people with her costume. In that case I would simply call them naive. But seeing as I was guilty of the same thing in questioning whether all of this was a big deal in the first place, I can hardly judge them for that.
This is also not to say that I am without fault when it comes to my own ignorance on the subject. I can imagine that my being oblivious about the issue, is offensive in and of itself. For any black person, who is confronted with racism on a regular basis, to hear that a white person can go thirty-five years without even knowing about a certain facet of it, has got to be frustrating to say the least. So despite all of the backlash I’ve received, I’m still glad I wrote the post because in the end, I learned something.
It’s possible other people did too. I’m not trying to exaggerate the importance of what I wrote, which was essentially a flippant commentary on a fleeting news story, but it did stir legitimate debate. Beyond the comments that were purposefully intended to inflame emotions, you can see people on opposing sides of the issue, finding common ground. Myself included.
So at the end of the day, what did my fifteen minutes of internet infamy ultimately teach me? That everyone just wants to be heard and the more we listen, the better off we’ll be.
In other news, it’s going to be seriously awkward transitioning back into writing stories about my cat after this.