My Culture is Not a Costume

Arista Roesch


Picture this: you go to a college campus and see an African-American person with ivory foundation on, blue contacts in, a blonde wig, and a swastika armband. You’d raise an eyebrow and ask what the hell is going on, but they’d just chuckle and say, “Hey, it’s just a costume. It’s for my class.” And I guess, to some, that makes it okay. So is any different for a Caucasian person to put on darker foundation and pose as an ethnicity other than their own? I think not.

                  In light of some recent Halloween costume fiascos, it’s become apparent that, though we are much more racially accepting and a more melded society, there are still some boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed – not even for a costume. Julianne Hough took a lot of flak for her appearance in black-face to pose as her favorite character, Crazy Eyes, from Orange is the New Black. Maybe we should take this as a realization that other people’s cultures, races, and ethnicities are not costumes. Unfortunately, at Wilmington College, we haven’t quite picked up on that yet.

                  A stage makeup course, one that I was overly excited for at the beginning of the semester, has some students taking the course a little uneasy about the upcoming assignment for 11/25. The assignment? Racial and ethnic makeup. Examples given to us were ones such as Arabic or Middle Eastern makeup, going so far as to tell us to, “bring a towel or something to wrap around your head as a turban.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Middle Eastern and Arabic men who wear turbans, don’t do so to dry their hair. Sikhs, for example, do so to show their belonging to a Guru and to “convey royalty, grace, and uniqueness”

                  It’s unfortunate that we are required to do something offensive for the sake of passing a class. Personally, I’ve only missed one single class, and that was due to the fact that the assignment required putting latex on your skin and I have a latex allergy and was not allowed to bring in a model since I had one on the other latex assignment. It’s surprising that a student’s skin irritation doesn’t matter when determining who is and isn’t allowed to bring in a model. But I digress.

                  The least offensive choice for this assignment would be a tribal or opera mask, and I suspect there will be a few of those, including mine, but at what point will we realize that that by painting your face as a Japanese Kabuki woman or putting on a fake moustache and sombrero to depict a Hispanic man is disrespectful? It’s so important that we learn to respect races and ethnicities of all types, because these people and where they come from, are not costumes. There are those who claim that we are being too sensitive about the situation, but the truth is, we aren’t. It’s hard to realize the hurt that dressing up and doing makeup as someone else’s culture can cause, and there are many people, who will never understand that type of feeling. But once you experience something that you’re so proud of, such as where you come from, turned made a mockery of, you’d realize why it is offensive.

                  Perhaps it’s time to rethink the curriculum in terms of this specific class. With Wilmington College’s claims of holding steadfast to Quaker values – integrity, service, peace, social justice, simplicity, and equality – there should never be an assignment that toes the line of racism.

                  Please take the time to consider the people who are being depicted when we put on this ridiculous makeup. This campaign has been going on since 2011 and is a beautiful display of how putting on these “costumes” for just one night can affect people throughout their lifetime.  

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One Thought to “My Culture is Not a Costume”

  1. AvatarCarol Thomas

    Wilmington College is first and foremost an institute of education. When we choose to come to college we are choosing to expand our knowledge and gain not only what we bring in as a student, but where the professors can take us beyond our comfort zones. Theater, is not the only curriculum on campus that deals with issues that maybe sensitive to some students, but you have to be able to step outside of your box and embrace all cultures of life. Wilmington College’s mission statement is “In keeping with the rich heritage of the liberal arts, the college seeks to educate the whole person […] please take time to finish reading the College’s mission statement from the link below. I think this may help you on your College journey.

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