Why are costumes interesting or amusing to us? Perhaps because of the absurdity of it all: how easily can we step out of our day-to-day roles as privileged American college students and become someone else? Donning a costume brings along with it the cultural history and set of generalizations that come in a shiny, plastic package, whether you are a pirate, nurse, thug, geisha or & terrorist?
On the night of Halloween, some members of the St. Olaf community gathered together at the Grand to dance and celebrate. Among the throng of sweaty costumed Oles were two young men wearing the galabiyya, a traditional Islamic linen robe, and head-covers. They were brandishing plastic AK-47s.
One man was observed pointing his gun in the face of another student on the dance floor. Other sources reported the boys shouting "Allah" and repeatedly using the phrases "dirka, dirka" (thank you, "South Park") and "jihad."
Not only did these costumes exploit modern cultural tensions, they also directly connected violence and fear with a specific cultural group. Such actions are not just insensitive, they are deeply degrading. They purvey to the broader community a cultural stereotype that is harmful to the dignity of a group of people, a region, a race and a religion.
Friends, this is not simply about practicing political correctness, it's about personal awareness. Using politically correct terminology might prevent us all from saying the wrong words or offending our peers, but it does not challenge us to truly examine our own prejudices and assumptions about other cultures.
The costume issue raises questions about community responsibility. To laugh away or ignore bigoted humor is easy and doesn't threaten the communal pride of our well-intentioned and compassionate, multicultural, liberal arts college. But make no mistake, doing so passively affirms and encourages the prejudices we have all encountered and absorbed from the modern consequences of our societies' tarnished histories.
This is not about censorship folks; it's about taking responsibility for the weight of our words and actions. Frankly, the many costumes we wear on Halloween - the womanizing pirate, the sexy nurse, the urban thug, the submissive geisha, the quiet American Indian squaw or the wise old chief - all have something in common. Upon honest reflection, the costumes are clearly making oppressive statements.
Take a few moments to consider or research the historical and cultural foundations of these stereotyped images. They probably aren't funny after all.
So, we all know better, right? It's all in good humor because we are intelligent, discerning adults. We have diversity among our friends; we have a Middle East studies concentration on campus. But do we really believe this to be a "post-racist society," beyond racism, cultural tensions and personal prejudice?
My intent here is not to blame or point fingers but to encourage honest reflection. We wonder how our actions, our thoughts and our lives reflect our community. At St. Olaf, our mission statement says that we create global citizens. What do you think?