Criminal Performances

(Anyway, I started this post in November and it’s now January. At first I was too busy with a TESOL course and the practicum to finish writing it, and also because after I graduated from my MA program and started taking the TESOL course, I found that I was unable to write academic paragraphs. And then I went to China, where I’m staying currently, and wordpress seems to be partially blocked by the Great Firewall. My friend Michelle got me over the wall with vtunnel. I’ve sort of lost my thoughts on this…so forgive the rough and aimless post. But hey! head over to http://ideogrammatica.wordpress.com to read about how I was accused of robbing someone on the street last week and dragged to the police station.)

This post is a bit late after the fact, but around Hallowe’en, there were 2 rather interesting (and disturbing) incidents in Canada where people crossed the line in terms of how they disguised themselves. One was at a Hallowe’en party at Royal Canadian Legion branch 103, where two men dressed up as KKK members and led a White friend, who was dressed up as a slave in blackface, by a rope. The other was the young Chinese man who got onto an Air Canada flight disguised as an elderly Caucasian man. The latter of course raised a lot of alarms, and the young man is being detained, and former was also deemed alarming and branch 103 was shut down.

Last Hallowe’en I just briefly posted about how students in the English department at McMaster handled Hallowe’en, and my friend Michelle noted in the comments that Hallowe’en is a time when we get to subvert constructions of identity (I feel that she does this daily, but that’s beyond the point). Often people don’t exploit Hallowe’en to its full potential, choosing instead to disguise oneself as fairly conventional creatures of darkness, available at your local Shopper’s Drug Mart. I hesitate to applaud either of this year’s Hallowe’en incidents, but they certainly subverted racial identity in historical and international ways.

When I first heard about the KKK + blackface incident, I asked the person who told me whether those costumes were meant to be ironic, and she told me it wasn’t. The Globe and Mail features an article where Crowley, one of the men dressed in a KKK costume, said that incidents of the KKK lynching African Americans “has been gone for years and years and years…That’s so past-tense.” Interviewees from Campbellford, ON say that there’s no overt racism in their community, and so the best conclusion would be that the KKK and blackface costumes weren’t ironic, but neither were they malicious. The problem seems to be that people (White people) are not really educated about the significance of the signs of racism and the impact they could still have.

However, Crowley’s rather dismissive attitude is what bothers me. Other than sounding like a ditz, which I think is really hard to pull off in print, by saying that lynching is “so past-tense” Crowley is suggesting that his attitude is the norm, and people who protested need to get with the times. The Globe and Mail article also states that the man in charge of the Hallowe’en event “felt that it was their right to wear these costumes under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada.” Crowley fell back on some sort of common sense norm, and the event organizer fell back on a legal norm. Neither is satisfactory. Crowley was essentially trying to shrug off blame by saying that it was excessive sensitivity on the part of others that made his costume a national issue, when he should really have owned up immediately. The way that the man in charge of the event appealed to the Charter was rather ironic: the re-enactment of the KKK and an African American slave embodied the lack of rights and freedoms that racialized human beings have had to put up with, and he was trying to defend White people doing this re-enactment by appealing to those very rights. Hmm.

Then there’s the 20-something Chinese man dressed up as an old Caucasian man to get past airport security. Unlike the KKK + blackface incident, in this case a member of a less privileged ethnicity dressed up as a member of a more privileged ethnicity (Asian > Caucasian rather than Caucasian > African American). The privilege of Caucasians in this case is obvious – as an elderly Caucasian man, he was let on the flight without proper ID. If he tried to do the same thing while not in disguise, he would have to have the right ID, and moreover the airport staff might have paid special attention to him because of his ID. And since he was an Asian refugee, this case was reported with an air of humour in the press, the pictures of him and his disguise like ads for a freak show. I’d hate to see how it would have been if he was from the Middle East.

Another difference is that the young man from Asia being detained and his case is an international security issue, whereas the men in Campbellford only had the legion shut down and they could still go about the other avenues of their lives. Why is the racist, or at least ignorant, attitude of many within a country considered less dangerous than a young man who wants a better life in another country…?

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