White people of Charleston, you have been warned: This Halloween some of you will go as pimps. And this is fine.
Some of you may even go as gangbangers. That's fine, too.
But under no circumstances can you cover your face in brown makeup. That's called blackface and it's racist.
Of course, that's not going to prevent some asshole from doing it. Somebody always does.
Fortunately, one Ohio University student organization is trying to get the word out. They're called STARS, and they've launched an ad campaign to let everyone know that it is not OK to wear blackface.
However, the logic behind the group's "We're a Culture, Not a Costume" has unintended consequences.
For example, STARS says that a gal can't go as a geisha.
And that a guy can't go as a Arab terrorist.
Why? For the simple reason that those costumes are of culturally specific characters. And well, it's not acceptable for white people — and make no mistake that is who this ad campaign is targeting — to dress up as members of another culture.
But by this same logic, that would mean that non-whites couldn't go as cowboys or knights or pirates or, heck, superheroes for that matter — and that's just asinine. No one — not even STARS — is suggesting that. And there's a good reason: It's fucking harmless.
Now, that's not to say that it's appropriate for a white guy to paint his skin red and dress as Tonto or for a white girl to don a set of bigass buck teeth and make her eyes all squinty like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's. That shit's wrong, but only because doing so focuses on racially specific physical characteristics and not culturally specific ones.
Here's a rule that will serve you well this Halloween: You can change your clothes, but you can't change the color of your skin. Stick to this and you'll be fine. After all, it's the same rule that we follow in the real world.
As a side note, the We're a Culture, Not a Costume campaign has been spoofed pretty relentlessly. Check out Know Your Meme for the best bits of mockery.