Prior to Saturday, I wouldn’t know Julianne Hough if she walked up to me on the street and spray-painted “Julianne Hough was here” on my purse. Alas, now that she’s joined the long list of stupid White folks who “innocently” don blackface costumes on Halloween, I’m now aware that she’s an actress who was in some stuff I haven’t seen and don’t care about. A photo of her dressed (and painted) as Crazy Eyes, a popular character from Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black, circulated the web this weekend. And before I could be bothered to google the actress, she’d already released the standard “I’m sorry if I offended you” nonpology.
Okay, girl. Whatever.
This weekend also brought with it a slew of viral pictures featuring people dressed up as George Zimmerman and a slain Trayvon Martin (including one posed by a man with an extensive rap sheet—the irony.) While these images are certainly more horrifying and wickedly intentioned that the stupid actress’s costumed faux pas, they are no less surprising. Many of our fellow Americans celebrate the death of Martin and the exoneration of the wannabe cop who killed him—and a number of them would likely trade their Obamacare and government subsidies they rely upon to let Boy (Killer) George be their president over “the Kenyan.”
Instead of another hand-wringing op-ed pleading with these people to please-baby-please be more sensitive come Halloween or to understand the troubling history of blackface, it’s time to face the truth: every year a surprising amount of White folks are telling us to kiss their asses with these costumes (and with many, many other actions, but we’re just talking about this one today). At this point in history, an adult who chooses to put on a blackface costume for a social occasion—who uses it in a fashion spread or to promote a makeup or for any other reason aside from some sort of recreation of historical minstrelsy that is done to examine the racism of the practice—knows it’s offensive and that people will be hurt and/or angered by it.
AND THEY DON’T CARE.
This is not a case of a missing “sensitivity chip.” This is someone weighing your Black history and your Black pain versus their own sense of folly and choosing themselves. And that, beloveds, is what White privilege is all about. “I hear what you all are saying, but at the end of the day, I come first.”
So, instead of fussing to make teachable moments for some grown-up who doesn’t give a damn about you, have one for yourself. If someone is telling you to kiss their grits, how do you handle that? If it’s an actress, do you avoid seeing her movies? If it’s some clowns from Florida and Cape Cod, do you call their jobs and shame them on social media? Do you dismiss it? These are personal choices that you have to make for yourself. (Personally, I am in favor of people suffering consequences for these transgressions—maybe Caitlin Cimeno doesn’t deserve to scoop ice cream for Vineyard visitors next summer.) But I do urge this: recognize your enemy when she makes herself known. Stop pleading with people to see your humanity when they have made it plain that they just. don’t. care.
Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com. Views expressed in The Beautiful Struggler are her own. Tweet her @jamilahlemieux.