Halloween has passed and for a lot of people that means putting away the Native American headdresses, sombrero, ponchos, and other culturally appropriative (and downright racist) costumes until next year.
After a conversation on my Facebook wall, in which I was forced to call a girl out for her appropriative costume, bubbled over into a fierce debate, I decided to pen this short guide on how to handle such exchanges. This is a guide that is applicable to all situations, not just Halloween:
Step 1: DON’T GET DEFENSIVE. This will be your most visceral reaction. You will feel your stomach plunge to ankles and you’ll want to stomp feet and scream “But I didn’t mean it that way!” Don’t. Try your best to stay calm and move along to step two.
Step 2: Listen. No. I mean really listen, and then acknowledge what you’ve done wrong. If someone is calling you out chances are, they have been personally hurt by your actions. And make sure that what you are hearing isn’t “Hey [insert your name here], you’re a shitty person who did this really shitty thing. And now I hate you forever.” In fact, the person who is calling you out is usually saying the exact opposite. Most of time they are actually saying “Hey [insert your name here], I felt deeply hurt by your actions/I know that your actions are liable to deeply hurt someone else. I just want to point out what you’re doing wrong so that you can stop your hurtful actions and avoid doing them again in the future.”
Step 3: Don’t expect an education. It is not the job of the person calling you out (especially if the person is a member of the marginalized community that has been appropriated/harmed) to list and then teach you why your actions were wrong. It’s 2013 and we have endless resources (literally) at our fingertips. Take a moment to use the internet. Google is your friend. Look up “cultural appropriation.” Find out the difference between “systematic racism” and “prejudice.” Make an effort.
Step 4: Apologize. And none of that “I’m sorry you were offended” bullshit either. Try to empathize, but if empathy is impossible (since it was probably your privilege blinding you to why your actions were offensive first place) at the very least, be genuinely remorseful. Phony and condescending apologies are transparent, so try your hardest not to be that person.
Step 5: Don’t do it again. If someone told you that your Native American costume was offensive this year, don’t dress up as a chola or paint your face as a sugar skull next year. We are all human and we all make mistakes, but continuing to do the same problematic actions over and over again shows the person who called you out that you don’t give a shit about their feelings and you don’t care to make a change.
Lastly, I will close with this pro tip: if a person of the target marginalized group tells you that you are being sexist/racist/ableist/heterosexist etc., you probably are and it is now your job to shut up and listen to what they have to say.