Well, Halloween is long gone, but the issue of costumes, of cultural appropriation and of offense continues, and is now a big topic in the student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon. A new article, “Apology sparks discussion on role of admin in Halloween costumes,” describes what happens when one student (yes, a single student) wore a Halloween costume meant to resemble a “cholo”. Not knowing what a cholo is, I looked it up and found this:
From Urban Dictionary:
A cholo is term implying a Hispanic male that typically dresses in chinos (khahki pants), a wifebeater sleeveless teeshirt or a flannel shirt with only the top buttoned, a hairnet, or with a bandana around the forehead, usually halfway down over the eyes. Cholos often have black ink tattoos, commonly involving Catholic imagery, or calligraphy messages or family names.
Cholos often drive low riders.A farcical example of a cholo from the movies is Cheech, from Cheech and Chong.
On October 30, the Council on University Programming (COUP) held “Boos n’ Ribs,” a Halloween-themed version of its annual live music and food festival, in Ida Noyes Hall. The event also featured a costume contest. Groves, who said that a friend asked him if he wanted to go to Boos n’ Ribs right before it started, hastily chose to wear a bandanna and a plaid shirt, with only the top button buttoned.
He said that the design was inspired by Stand and Deliver, a 1988 drama film about Hispanic high school students in Los Angeles who overcome disadvantaged backgrounds to learn advanced mathematics. Groves, who identifies as White, added that he did not know that the costume would offend; prior to coming to college, he had worked at a Taco Bell near his hometown in Colorado, where he said that the “cholo” stereotype was a common joke in a work environment where many of his co-workers were Hispanic.
“About talking about ‘cholos’ and gang life, it was always kind of a joke with them, between me and them. So I wasn’t aware of the offensive nature that could have. In retrospect, I should have known better. But at the time, I was only acting on what I knew, which was that a number of individuals joked around about stuff like that,” Groves said.
At 5:21 p.m., COUP uploaded that photo, along with photos of other entrants into the costume contest, to the Boos n’ Ribs Facebook page, where viewers could vote for the costumes that they liked best. That night, Perez said that he saw the picture online, but hesitated before commenting on it.
“I saw the pictures when they were posted. At the time, I dropped the issue, because I didn’t want to be personally attacked. But other people messaged me and said ‘I can’t deal with this,’ and another friend of mine started sharing the photo, so I eventually commented,” Perez said.
COUP has since removed the photo from the Boos n’ Ribs page. Perez said this was a misstep in addressing the issue, which was that he considered the photo to be an affront to his identity.
“It’s not just that it’s offensive to me; that’s what people don’t get. I’m hurt because that’s part of my ethnic identity. It erases the prevalence of police brutality and the labeling of Latinos as criminal,” Perez said.
Well, one can argue whether the cholo costume was offensive (after all, not all of them are criminals!), and whether it even speaks to police brutality. If I had to wear a costume, I wouldn’t wear that one! But it’s harder to argue that these costumes should be banned, or that the University of Chicago should take a stand about which costumes are appropriate and which are offensive. Nevertheless, both Perez and the shamed student Groves agree on the need for University action:
Both Groves and Perez said that they would support increased University involvement in identifying culturally appropriative costumes in advance of next Halloween. Groves said that he would support a message or e-mail from the University with examples of unacceptable costumes in order to inform the student body; Perez said that he wants the administration to actively condemn instances in which students wear unacceptable costumes.
“It’s a tricky issue, but the University has to take a more staunch stance against appropriative costumes. It has happened every year since I’ve been here. President Zimmer talks about the balance between free speech and civil behavior…but when the University says nothing, it makes activists look like the only people who take issue with the costumes.”
The University of Chicago policy on freedom of expression, which is great—and a model for the policies of other universities—has said everything that needs to be said about this:
In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.
In other words, the University of Chicago will not intervene in this case. Although I don’t want an atmosphere of racism and intolerance on this campus, I also don’t want students to run crying to the University, demanding that its administrators “take a staunch stance” and get involved in determining whether costumes are appropriate or offensive. They can protest, as Perez did, but he clearly wants his Academic Parents to produce guidelines. That’s not going to happen.