Tag Archives: halloween

Dissenting Opinion: Raffi Torres Isn’t a Racist

I’m a little torn on the controversy around hockey player Raffi Torres dressed up as Jay-Z, which required painting his skin black in order to be less Mexican, more African-American. But only a little torn.

Judging by the angry internetz, apparently “blackface” is a special case in the world of race-mocking and racially-sensitive taboo costumes.

Well, okay. Except… this isn’t “blackface.” This is black makeup.

First, let’s point out the obvious here — I’m fish-belly white. I’m descended from a long line of fish-belly white people. I wear SPF 60 in the summer, and have green eyes and light-brown hair. I’m clearly a honky.

So, obviously I don’t have a fucking clue what it’s like to be discriminated against on the basis of my skin colour. I also don’t have the foggiest what being descended from slavery would be like. And, being Canadian, I don’t have the remotest idea what it’s like to live in a racially-charged country that has come from the Jim Crow laws of the South all the way to having a half-black president in office, all in 50 years.

I accept that I’m absolutely ignorant about what being black in America today is like. Guilty as charged.

That said…

What Raffi Torres did isn’t “Blackface.” He’s lampooning an actual person, not a whole race or culture. He’s goofing off on the one day of the year that everyone gets to dress up in masquerade.

I understand that, historically, “blackface” was a way of triggering long-felt hurt and mockery amongst socially-aware blacks who know their history. I get that there’s more to it than just being an ignorant theatrical past with stupid white people. I know this.

I think, in that way, that yes, it is somewhat racially insensitive, maybe a little boneheaded on Torres’ part given his public stature, but it’s not racist.

The outcry is over the top on this one. Is there cause for discussion? Yeah, absolutely. A lot of people probably need to know more about the history of blackface. Raffi Torres’ life has been spent without blackface being on television since its last appearance was in 1981, the year he was born.

If people want to talk about why his “costume” is inappropriate, then great. But the “he’s a racist” talk needs to fucking stop. First, he’s Mexican and probably gets it. Second, his agent is black. Third, he’s a Jay-Z fan and wanted to have a night pretending to be a great rapper — who’s black, and being a pasty-faced Mexican wouldn’t have pulled that off too effectively.

Some dude dressing up with painted skin that is done as MAKEUP, not as a mockery that has unrealistically huge lips, or excessive stylizing, isn’t racist — he’s just ignorant of the fact that some would deem it racially insensitive.

Take a look at the ACTUAL blackface shot here, the infamous The Jazz Singer take on it, versus Torres’ attempt at being Jay-Z. Slightly different style, no?

Was the movie Tropic Thunder racist because Robert Downey Jr. wore black makeup? No. It was funnier because of it, because his ignorance was amplified for comedic gain. It seems funny to us that someone could be alive today and be that ignorant, and that’s the joke.

Is Raffi Torres racially insensitive? A lot of people think so today. Would I have dressed up with blackface? No, but that’s mostly because it’s way too much work. Do I think Raffi Torres is racially insensitive? No. Would I advise someone against dressing up as a black person? Unlikely, but depends on the context. This context? I have no problems with it. Rappers by their very nature are pretty easy to lampoon, because they’re so stylized. But white southern folk are easy to lampoon too. That’s how it goes.

There are things we need to societally accept and just get over, and this is one of them. There’s a big difference between wearing black makeup that’s authentically done and wearing “blackface.” There’s a big difference between dressing up as an Asian and drawing “slant-eyes” on your face. One is authentic-looking in an attempt at mimicking, the other is blatant mockery and derision.

Raffi Torres wasn’t mocking, deriding, or insulting black culture. He was pretending to be someone that’s not the same race as him. It’s not an offense.

In some ways, it’s an example of how far we’ve come — that the new generation doesn’t see the offense, blacks have become millionaires and the movers-and-shakers of culture today. They’re as fair game as anyone, and that’s a good thing. That actually is progress.

We need to get to a place where we understand that there’s a difference between offensive behaviour and just having fun. There are sometimes shades of grey, but being unable to laugh at ourselves does us no favours.

This wasn’t racism. It’s not offensive. It’s impressionism, mimicry, and even wanna-be behaviour, but it’s not racist.

If everyone who’s bent out of shape about this could turn their righteous indignation towards the real offenses — like how a race that comprises 14% of the American population still manages to account for 60%+ of those in jail today in the USA.

Now that’s offensive.

A Life Lived In Fear is No Life to Live

It’s cold and flu season, and I’m your canary in the coalmine. Got railroaded by the bug last week and I’ve been sick a full week.

I spent my weekend being The Human Spigot and exploring my all-too-close love-affair with polar fleece and cozy slippers, sipping honeyed tea and regretting food choices that turned me into The Loudest Coughing Neighbour Of All Time.

But all this time under the weather around All Hallow’s Eve has given me a chance to watch horror movies I’ve always been too cowardly to see. I was never a “horror” fan. But I never gave it a chance, either. They were scary, so, no, I wouldn’t watch ’em. Ever. A + B = Not A Fucking Chance.

Having crossed a number off my list now, the experience has left me sort of pensive after my horror-movie-spree of Halloween week. I still have more horrors on the trusty PVR, and I’m not worried about watching them.

I began wondering if maybe my fear of watching horrors was part of the problem with my general fears about life. If there’s any one thing I most regret from my childhood, culturally, it’s that inability to confront All Things Scary in horrors. I’m not sure where my apprehensions came from. Maybe it’s just demonstrative of my unlikely tendency to face fear in general.

It’s the cultural chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. Did my fears come first, or was it my fear of feeling fear?

I know that even today I’m a big old scaredy-cat. There’s so much I’m scared to face, so many excuses I find for honouring that fear and not facing those things which I should have the balls to face.

On some deeper level, this “I’m gonna watch horrors” movement I’m in reflects that I’m finally trying to do some of those things that scare me. I’m trying to take the scare out of the figuring, and make choices that don’t come from a place of avoidance due to fears. But, it’s hard.

A friend of mine does theatrical classes with kids and had a big scary day planned for his class today, but the asshats who run the school (and I know they’re asshats firsthand, having worked for the jerk owner myself) said it was “inappropriate” and now he’s doing a “harvest” class because the ghouls and goblins are nixed by administration. Probably partly on religious grounds, since I know who’s doing the deciding there. Whatever, lady.

When I heard about this, it made me angry. The thought of kids being raised coddled and protected, without the experience of being scared shitless, well, that’s not working out so well for me in my middling age, and I think it’s a recipe for failing the next generation.

Every kid needs to experience horror, fear, and the idea that Evil Lurks Somewhere.

Fact is, life is a big scary place. Evil is lurking. Bad things happen. But the further fact is, we usually outlast the fear. We get over it. Things scare the bejesus out of us, then we laugh it off, take a deep steadying breath, and carry on with life. That’s the human condition… most of the time.

Except we’re trying to handhold everyone out of fear — whether it’s Big Pharmacology trying to medicate the shit out of our anxiety or bubble-proofing kids, we try to “protect” ourselves. Don’t tell the politicians and the newsmedia, though — their whole industries exist on sneaking fear into our daily lives.

Today’s playgrounds — rubberized so kids don’t “get hurt” — are an example of just how ridiculous we are about life and its trials. God forbid Little Johnny should scrape his knee.

Personally, I know my stubbornness probably made it unlikely anyone would have succeeded when I was young and saying “No, I won’t do that, it scares me.” I wish I’d had craftier people around me that could have manipulated me past that fear. I wish my brother had taunted me less and supported me in confronting those deep, dark, scary places where having a big, strong brother with me holding my hand rather than trying to up the fear-ante might’ve taken the edge off things. I wish I’d had a lot of things, but that’s the way the growing-up-in-the-real-world cookie crumbles.

I think it  comes down to us being one of two types of people — either we focus on the exhilaration of relief we feel when fear subsides, or we get hung up on the terror that comes with fear’s rise. I’ve always been the latter, unable to get past the scare and celebrate how awesome it feels to realize we’re safe.

And maybe watching horror movies doesn’t mean a fucking thing in the long run of life. Maybe it’s a stupid waste of my time.

Or maybe it’s a sign that I’m changing some fundamental philosophies inside and opening my eyes to the reality that most of those things I’ve feared in life have been without point, and overinflated by yours truly’s excessive imagination.

Because, in the end, none of those movies scared me. A couple made me angry. “THIS? THIS is a horror classic? Carrie SUCKS. I didn’t even gasp once!”

In the end, the most common reaction I had, though, was that there was never anything I needed to fear, and I could’ve gotten it over with literally two decades ago.

Now I need that line of thinking to my day-to-day, because waking up on the fear side is no way to live.

PS: The Exorcist is still a fucking awesome movie. Saw it a decade ago and still love it.