Proceed With Caution By Kevin Hofmann Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion Once a year at my predominately white college, one of the fraternities held a party that they called the “Back to Detroit” party. It should have been called the “what you think Black is party.” The students showed up dressed as rappers, with fake gold chains, sweat suits, sneakers, and baseball hats. The drink of choice for the night was beer in a 40-ounce bottle, malt liquor, or cheap wine. The music was more diverse than it ever was at any other party… but not really. They played rap music and R&B music and limited to those two categories. The students walked around with a 40-ounce beer in one hand and gave their best impression of what they thought Black sounded like. This usually meant that they used words and phrases they felt were used and owned by the Black community. The accent used with the words made it unbearable, along with the body movements, hand gestures, and attempts at complicated handshakes that failed miserably. Afro wigs and dread lock wigs were popular and often treated like a big red nose on a clown, as a funny accessory. It was a party to mock and make fun of people who looked like me and my city. Thankfully, we didn’t have any incidents of students wearing Blackface. After all, the students drew the line somewhere. I didn’t go to the party out of fear that I would be seen and treated as a mascot for the party. I also didn’t go because I didn’t want to co-sign this abhorrent behavior. I never considered complaining to those in charge because my past experience told me complaining would do no good. There would be no actions to resolve the behavior but I would be labeled as an angry Black student. So, I stayed away and stayed quiet. I knew a few Black people who went to the party and participated in the characterizations and imitations. I was upset with them, but I also understood. Often as a Black student in a predominately white environment, you are given a difficult choice. You can go along to get along and be considered “in” with the crowd, yet still a part of the crowd. The other choice was to object, complain, and try to educate, which often ended in you being labeled as “angry,” which helped to justify the shunning that would come your way. Some students didn’t think about the bigger meaning when it came this party. They saw it as an excuse to drink and have fun. Some students took it to the extreme and seemed to enjoy all parts of the degradation, appropriation, and mean-spiritedness that came so easy. As a child, I loved dressing up for Halloween. I would try on my home-made costume weeks in advance. It was always home-made because home-made was always better than the plastic masks and matching plastic outfit that would dissolve when the October air hit it. I loved running through the dark pretending to be someone or something else. The candy was an amazing fringe benefit for sure. The last quarter of the year was magical to me. It included Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Halloween kicked off the last three months in a big way. Halloween brings back great memories for me but today it makes me nervous. Dressing up for some means an easy opportunity to put people down and then claim ignorance. So, I go into this year’s Halloween excited because everyone tells me what a big deal it is at Adrian Dominican Sisters. I look forward to the creativity and imagination we will get to see. I am anxious because dressing up can be problematic and hurtful, whether intended or not. I have thought about this a lot over the last three to four weeks. I thought about how I would handle Halloween. I thought about what I would say or not say. I did fear what people may think about me if I add caution to a historically cherished event. I concluded it was necessary, as I thought back to my experience in college, and how it felt to have people imitate and make fun of my culture, my city, my being. I was concerned I would ruin someone’s fun. Then I thought, if the only way you can have fun is by tearing apart someone else, then maybe you should have less fun. I still look forward to Halloween. I just hope socializing, showcasing creativity, and eating food you shouldn’t will be enough and as people decide how they will dress up they will take into account the hurt that can come from mocking someone’s culture. I hope we can have fun and no one person or group has to pay the bill for the fun. Proceed with caution… please.